13 November 2013

"Lasting admiration and unfeigned regret"

Between 1802 and 1804, Colonel John Macdonald had the honour of commanding a Battalion of Cinque Port Volunteers under the Right Honourable Wiliiam Pitt at Walmer Castle. In this capacity, Macdonald had ample opportunities to witness William Pitt as a Colonel and a private man.  Needless to say, his praise of Pitt as a Colonel is glowing, and it deserves recording, in part, here:

"Had he [Pitt] been bred as soldier, he would have been as celebrated a General as he was an eminent Statesmen; for he possessed in the highest degree the three essential qualities necessary for the military character - courage, coolness, and unbounded comprehension. In numerous and mixed companies he was rather reserved, and though unaffectedly polite and attentive to all, he directed his conversation to a few around him…(Macdonald, 1819: 115)"

"At our regimental mess, his urbanity and condescension inspired his officers with an attachment bordering on enthusiasm. Good singing, particularly where the subject was patriotic, he seemed to relish." (Macdonald, 1819: 116)

Macdonald (1819: 117) seems to wish that someone “would give a life of this great man, including his familiar conversation, which was as instructive as his public talents were splendid.” That’s my aim - a singular focus on Pitt’s relatively unknown private hours!

But perhaps most touching of all is Colonel Macdonald’s reminiscence of Pitt as he was when surrounded by a small group, usually only eight or ten, of his private circle of companions, and this clearly left a lasting mark on Macdonald himself. Writing in 1819, thirteen years after Pitt’s death, and four years after the Battle of Waterloo which signalled the final defeat of Napoleon, Macdonald (1819: 118) remembers “…Mr. Pitt; to whose memory one who had been in habits of friendship with him pays a feeble tribute of lasting admiration and unfeigned regret.”


Macdonald, J. (1819) A circumstantial and explanatory account of experiments. London: T. Egerton, pp. 115-118.

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