Critical and Historical Essays — Volume 1 eBook

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not to attempt.  For the errors of rashness there might be indulgence.  For over-caution, for faults like those of Lord George Sackville, there was no mercy.  In other times, and against other enemies, this mode of warfare might have failed.  But the state of the French government and of the French nation gave every advantage to Pitt.  The fops and intriguers of Versailles were appalled and bewildered by his vigour.  A panic spread through all ranks of society.  Our enemies soon considered it as a settled thing that they were always to be beaten.  Thus victory begot victory; till, at last, wherever the forces of the two nations met, they met with disdainful confidence on one side, and with a craven fear on the other.

The situation which Pitt occupied at the close of the reign of George the Second was the most enviable ever occupied by any public man in English history.  He had conciliated the King; he domineered over the House of Commons; he was adored by the people; he was admired by all Europe.  He was the first Englishman of his time; and he had made England the first country in the world.  The Great Commoner, the name by which he was often designated, might look down with scorn on coronets and garters.  The nation was drunk with joy and pride.  The Parliament was as quiet as it had been under Pelham.  The old party distinctions were almost effaced; nor was their place yet supplied by distinctions of a still more important kind.  A new generation of country squires and rectors had arisen who knew not the Stuarts.  The Dissenters were tolerated; the Catholics not cruelly persecuted.  The Church was drowsy and indulgent.  The great civil and religious conflict which began at the Reformation seemed to have terminated in universal repose.  Whigs and Tories, Churchmen and Puritans, spoke with equal reverence of the constitution, and with equal enthusiasm of the talents, virtues, and services of the Minister.

A few years sufficed to change the whole aspect of affairs.  A nation convulsed by faction, a throne assailed by the fiercest invective, a House of Commons hated and despised by the nation, England set against Scotland, Britain set against America, a rival legislature sitting beyond the Atlantic, English blood shed by English bayonets, our armies capitulating, our conquests wrested from us, our enemies hastening to take vengeance for past humiliation, our flag scarcely able to maintain itself in our own seas, such was the spectacle which Pitt lived to see.  But the history of this great revolution requires far more space than we can at present bestow.  We leave the Great Commoner in the zenith of his glory.  It is not impossible that we may take some other opportunity of tracing his life to its melancholy, yet not inglorious close.

THE EARL OF CHATHAM (October 1844)

1.  Correspondence of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham. 4 vols. 8vo.  London:  1840.

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