13 November 2013

Mr. Pitt's advice: Don't lose your temper

In Earl Stanhope’s Miscellanies (1863) there is a letter from Mr. Boyd to Earl Stanhope relating a piece of advice from Mr. Pitt that was given to the late Mr. Christmas, who in his early professional life was a confidential clerk or temporary private secretary to Pitt. Mr. Christmas was apparently a man who rarely lost his temper. Boyd was fascinated by Christmas’s ability to remain sanguine in the face of such an arduous workload, so he enquired how Christmas managed to remain so calm. Boyd relates the circumstance as follows:

"…I could not resist the opportunity of asking the old gentleman [Mr. Christmas] the secret. "Well, Mr. Boyd, you shall know it. Mr. Pitt gave it to me: - Not to lose my temper, if possible, at any time, and NEVER during the hours of business"…He [Christmas] also related to me an instance which came under his own observation of Mr. Pitt’s extraordinary powers of mental and physical endurance. Mr. Pitt had been immersed all day with Christmas in intricate accounts (I assume, preparing for the conflict of a War Budget), when, looking at the hour, he said, "I must now go to the House, but shall return as early as I can, although I fear we shall have a late sitting." It proved so, as he did not rejoin his private secretary until six in the morning. He had something kind to say to Christmas for keeping at his work, adding, "I must now have a wash," and going to the end of the room, threw off his coat and neckcloth, and applied a wet towel to his head and face. When this improvised ablution was over, he declared to his fidus Achates that he was quite fresh and ready for business, and for four hours he was hard at work, in going through the accounts Mr. Christmas had prepared during the night.” (Stanhope, 1863: 38-39)

What great advice!


Stanhope (1863) Miscellanies. London: John Murray, pp. 38-9.

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