« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
form the character, -eloquence-address-decision-discretion—he was the greatest ever produced in this, the only country where such a character is known. It is indeed marvellous to look back and observe how large a space he fills in the capacity of a debater, and into how narrow a compass his measures have already shrunk. But a little reflection easily explains the diversity. He was hurried into public life prematurely; and, though an orator may be forced, a ruler must grow. A young man of talents, whose studies have been sedulously pursued, may, at a very early age, attain all the accomplishments which enable natural genius to take the direction of eloquence. No great experience is required to mould this into the shape that suits any given assembly. Little more is wanting to carry him thus far, than can be learnt from books; but a very different study, and far longer experience, is necessary to make even the most sagacious person an able councillor in difficuli emergencies; and it cannot be doubled, that the discipline requisite for this purpose is materially interrupted by the war of words, the habit which it begets of regarding every thing as a matter of discussion, and the tendency which it encourages lo act with a view to the defence of measures, rather than their success.
It is probable, that a much greater variety of opinion will be formed upon the character of his eloquence, than upon the superiority of his talents as a Parliamentary leader. Upon his own greater excellency in that than in any olher capacity, there can exist little doubt. But it does not follow, either that he was the first orator of his age, or that oralory, properly so called, was his own highest merit. His eloquence was of a kind peculiarly adapted to the situation which he filled so long : he was stately and dignified in manner; clear and distinct in unravelling the details of the most complicated subject ; declamatory at once and argumentative, so as to furnish the best prelexts to those who wished to follow him, while he cheered and encouraged those who might be in dread of his adversaries; but, above all, he excelled in the use of both topics and language with a view to produce the effect he desired, and never commit himself; he could balance his expressions so nicely-conceal or bring forward parts of his subject so artistly-approach, and yet shun dangerous points so dexterously
-often seeming to say so much while he told so little, and almost always filling the ear more than the mind, and frequently leaving it doubtful upon reflection, what had in substance been carried away-that a celebrated contemporary was scarcely chargeable with exaggeration * in saying, that "he verily believed Mr. Pitt could speak a King's Speech off hand." ;
To these qualities, so eminently fitting him for a Ministerial oralor, he added others of a higher description. His fluency of language was almost preternatural, and yet it never grew tiresome; for though it seldom rose to any great beauty, yet it was generally characteristic and appropriale; and from time to time it did contain expressions of more than ordinary felicity, is, at its common level, it too much resembled the diction of a State-paper. He was rather loud and vehement than impassioned ; and appeared to declaim more from the head than the heart : but then he reasoned closels, and arranged both quickly and accurately; or at least he seemed to be always arguing and distinguishing, and to address the understanding rather than the passions, over which he hardly had any other control than that
it which subjects the nerves of an audience to a sonorous and most powerful En voice, itself under strict discipline. In one part of eloquence, and only in
one, could he be deemed an orator of the highest genius. His sarcasm
was at once keen and splendid ; it was brilliant, and it was concise. In de rits the rest of his speaking he resembled the Italian prose writers. In this he
came nearer Dante; and could dispose of an adversary by a sentence or a
single phrase; or, without stepping aside, get rid of him in a parenthesis, mil, 41 and then go forward to his object,—thus increasing the contemptuousness urdless of the expression by its brevity and indifference, as if his victim had been qure too insignificant to give any trouble.
In viewing the opposite side of the picture, we must distinguish bulike between defects and faults. That he had very little fancy, and no pathos ; e event that his language was not pointed or epigrammatic; that his wit was never Dies & playful, and seldom aided his argument, being pointed towards his anIrpe i tagonist, and not his subject, is undeniable. But nearly the same defibra ciencies are to be found (except the last) in the greatest orator of ancient Te times, and are reckoned rather peculiarities which characterize, than ims pra perfections which delract from, his prodigious merit. But Mr. Pitt's
diction was not of the highest or the purest kind; it was neither learned
nor natural; and his style was extremely wordy. He could not arrive spt by a short and simple path at his point; he did not go by the straight htline; he did not say the thing at once, but spoke about it, and about livets it, and rounded off sentences which sometimes touched it, but at others e, only came near it. In throwing out finished periods, he had indeed a
legen wonderful facility; and the listener could hardly conceive how any one dal should produce such composition at the call of the moment. But much of per the merit consisted in this feat; and the same sentences, if written, would
have excited no admiration as mere composition. It is a fault of more lits importance, that he rarely took an original or commanding, or even an tubi ingenious view of a subject. But for a classical quotation, or an allusion to mi bo some part of English history, which now and then occurred, he might never
have read any thing beyond the Parliamentary debates and papers upon the table; nor did it seem as if the train of his thoughts ever led him beyond those subjects of contemplation. Though singularly distinct in the exposition of facts, and equally clear and extremely skilful in stating the terms of a question, his powers of reasoning at close quarters were by no means distinguished; and though he always charmed the hearer, he seldom overpowered him with that resistless torrent which makes the speaker and the speech be forgotten in the subject.
Mr. Fox's great superiority lay in the fulness of his matter; the large and original views which he took; the ingenuity of his illustrations; the flow of playful wit which always made a part, and often the most effectual part of his argument; the admirable closeness of his reasoning, and the vehemence with which he poured forth his whole feelings, as well as his thoughts ;and this abundance of matter it was that overcame all defects of voice and manner, and made his habitual carelessness, and hesitation of speech in some passages, only give the advantages of contrast to others, and relief rather than injury to the whole. It is most worthy however of remark, that, as in their character and conduct, so in their eloquence, neither of those great men had any faults of a mean or pallry kind. They spoke not for the sake of display, but to gain some important object; and their taste had nothing puerile or affected. Hence perhaps it is, that they both rather
avoided than wanted the epigrammatic point so common in other orālors, and which, though a beauty certainly in style, as well a help to argument, when moderately used, is very apt to overrun the composition, and usurp the place of more grand and simple excellences. This, however, may justly be deemed an ornament more suiled to the artificial manner of Mr. Pill, and rather lo have been expected in him than in his illustrious antagonisl, to whose extreme simplicity it appears abhorrent. They were both thoroughly imbued with the spirit of ancient eloquence, having drunk deeply at its perennial fountains; and if they only profited by the refinement of taste which is derived from an intimate acquaintance with poets and rhetoricians of antiquity, and did nol, especially Mr: Fox, form themselves upon the model of the Greek or Roman orators, we should rather admire this as an additional proof of their original excellence, than question their profound and accurate learning, or doubt their having fully appreciated the transcendent merils of the fathers of the art; well assured that they can only be imitated by speaking, not as they spoke in their own day, but as they would have spoken in ours.
Ti is not to be doubted that Mr. Pill, though from the first fitted for his slation by habits of composure, method, self-command, Nuency of speech, quickness in seizing, and dexterity in pursuing an advantage, was, by its continued duties and manifold facilities, prodigiously improved in those official qualities ; while Mr. Fox's defects as a leader might principally be traced to his long exclusion from power, and to the openness and warmth of his tempor. We are not here alluding to the personal iofluence of the two men; for, in that particular, there is no comparison ; no slalesman, without patronage at home, and power abroad, ever possessed any thing like the individual authority which Mr. Fox had during the last twenty years of his life, both in his own country and among foreign States. But we speak merely of the skill and management in debale which Mr. Pill had acquired beyond any other party chief; and he certainly owed it, in a great degree
, to his long experience as a minister, as well as to his natural talents, and the coolness, not to say coldness, of his temperament. When his situation was changed, he was not so versatile as his adversary; and the all-powerful defender of measures proved by no means so formidable an assailant. A little more practice would probably have removed this inequality; but the talents of an opposition leader he made little account of, and would never give himself time to acquire. Had he chosen to remain out of place, we might soon have said of him, as we now do of Mr. Fox-“Lateribus pugnans, incitaus animos; acer, acerbus, criminosus ;”—while on the other hand, perhaps, a length of ministerial habits might have transferred to the latter some of the peculiarities of his adversary, and enabled us to say of him“ Erat in verbis gravitas, et facile dicebat, et auctoritatem naluralem quandam babebat oratio.” (Brutus, 62.)
In passing from the Orator to the Statesman, we may remark, that though a much greater diversity of opinion may be expected, yet there can be little hesitation with regard to the fundamental objection which is applicable to his whole conduct; the want of those great and commanding views of policy, boldly formed, and steadily pursued, whereby a vast and original genius for stale affairs is evinced. Mr. Pilt never went before his age; he rather lagged behind it; and we shallin vain look to the history of his administration for traces of a master mind. He seems to have taken bis principles from others, and only busied himself with contriving or arranging
the details, and presenting the results in a plausible form to the public. Nineteen years in power such as no minister of this country ever before possessed ; nearly half the time in profound peace, and in as great favour with the People as with the Court-how could a man of genius leave so little to claim the gratitude, or even arrest the attention, of posterity? It seems impossible to avoid concluding, either that his talents were unequal to such high exertions, or that they lay in another direction. It seems as if he had rather been employing all his faculties in preserving the power he so prematurely acquired, than seeking to use that power for the benefit of mankind, and the illustration of his name in after ages. Nor did he, generally speaking, altempt the accomplishment of his plans, whatever might be iheir merits, with that disregard of consequences to his own power, which alone commands success, and alone deseryes it; distinguishing the lofty ambition of a patriot statesman from the buoyancy of a courtly intriguer.
The admirers of Mr. Pitt's conduct are apt to take their sland, first of all, upon his Financial measures. Nor can it be denied that there is here somewhat to commend; for he introduced a variety of improvements in the collection of the Revenue; he simplified exceedingly the management of the permanent branches of it; and he showed, for once in the history of laxation, that the produce of an impost may be increased by diminishing its amount. But what a minute proportion do these, his very earliest measures, bear to the whole course of his financial administration, which, in almost every other part, was a series of mistakes or of popular delusions ! Leaving out of view, for the present, that system of wasteful extravagance, the only systematic scheme of which he is the author, and the portion of his policy which his successors have the most scrupulously followed; supposing that all the immense expenditure by which he has crushed down the country was necessary; and that the only question was, whether the best means were adopted to provide for it—we shall vainly seek, in any other ago or nation, for specimens of taxes more flagrantly violating every sound principle, or of expedients for raising money more improvident, and even pernicious, than those presented by the course of shifts and devices which he employed to carry on the War with France.
For some years he went on, chiefly by increasing the old duties, and without any selection as to their pressure, either upon the poorer classes, or upon that fund which alone forms the legitimate source of all revenue, the produce of capital and labour. Those which he raised highest fell upon the necessaries of life, as the Salt-duties, which he began by doubling; or upon the transference of property, and, we may add, upon distress and embarrassment, as the Stamp-duties; or upon commercial intercourse, as the duties on tolls and carriage of parcels,—which indeed he was forced to abandon immediately, but only from finding it impossible to collect them. The taxes which he added to those handed down to him by his predecessors, were among the worst that can be imagined. Some of them sell at once upon capital, as the Legacy-tax; others, upon necessaries and labour, even more directly than such impolitic imposts usually do-for example, the duty on candles. Then he relied, at one time, upon a renewal of the Bank Monopoly, twelve years before it expired; at another, upon obtaining from the East India Company sums which it could not pay without gelting as much back in some other shape immediately after. One year, his resource was to beg voluntary donations from those whom he had alarmed
with the fears of Revolution and invasion; and the next, he would open a loan, which the loyal portion of the community were first extolled to the skies for taking with all its risks, and then indemnified when it became a losing concern. Shists and expedients appearing to be exhausted, he then professed to bring forward a new system of finance, upon solid principles; --and it turned out to be the clumsy and cruel plan of trebling at once the old assessments. This invention was to produce seven millions, at the lowest, and after making the most ample allowance for evasions and other deficiencies, -eight being the sum he really expected, but only four and a half were raised. At length came the most desperate resource of unskilful financiers, when all fair ways and means fail—a direct tax upon income, which was to cover every delicit, with a revenue of ten millions, and being so contrived as to be at once oppressive and unproductive, yielded in his hands little more than half the sum ; though his successors, with somewhat more of ingenuity and contrivance, made it the most gainful as well as intolerable duty known in modern times.
Amongst all these expedients to raise money, and prop for a season the credit of the country, not once did he ever seem to reflect on the great revenue, and still greater security to be derived from economy. His reforms, many of which deserve high commendation, and proved effectual even beyond his hopes, were all in the collection of the taxes, never in the expenditure. He could not face the clamour of reduced placemen and fairly paid contractors; nor durst he, with the country in his favour, and the Court dependent upon his support, through the influence of real or fancied dangers, ever place among his ways and means such retrenchments as might relieve the nation's burthens at the expense of the Crown's patronage. His reforms in the Revenue departments were, indeed, attended with a large increase of direct influence to the Treasury, which, under his administration, monopolized the patronage of the Boards. But it must be added, that he left to his successors the discovery of a right in those Boards to compensation for this loss. With all his extravagance, and his facility towards jobbers, the author of the Bonus to the Loyalty Loan contractors could not strike out any thing to match those who have since increased the salaries of public servants, as a compensation for patronage transferred to the Government.
But the measures of finance by which Mr. Pitt will be the longest rememibered, are the Sinking Fund and Depreciation of the Currency. The former was his favourite measure; he gloried in having raised a column to support public credit for ever; a column, upon which he desired that his name might be inscribed as the only reward of all his labours. It seems now pretty manifest, that this remuneration will not be very ample; but during his life, and for some years after, the opinions of men were very generally in favour of the Sinking Fund. That the plan was not originally devised by him, but adopted from Dr. Price's calculations, we account very little detraction from his merit; for assuredly the step is great which a statesman makes, when he embodies the ideas of ingenious and speculative men in a substantive measure, and carries it into execution. Nor does it seem possible to have arranged the details better than he did, or to have given more effect to the scheme in its practical operation. But no one who considers the question, now entertains a doubt that a Sinking Fund, during war at least, while new loans are contracting, is arithmetically absurd; and that a large actual loss has been incurred by the country from adhering to