13 November 2013

Pitt's Tragedy: Laurentius

'Laurentius, King of Clarinium' 
 
When Pitt was 13 years old he wrote a tragedy called ‘Laurentius.’ It was performed for the first time at Burton Pynsent, the Pitt family residence in Somerset, on August 22, 1772. Written entirely by William, it was performed by the five Pitt children, and then presented again on May 20, 1773 before Lord and Lady Stanhope (their son Charles Stanhope married William’s older sister Hester the following year). 

This incredible, brown leather-bound work can still be seen amongst the Pitt MSS (Stanhope of Chevening Manuscripts) at the Kent History and Library Centre in Maidstone. On the first page of the work is the ‘Dramatis Personae’ - in William’s boyish handwriting - from August 22, 1772, and it is written as follows:

"Laurentius a Tragedy, Dramatis Personae
Laurentius, King of Clarinium…Lord Pitt (John Pitt, William’s older brother)
Florus, Son to the King…Mr. James Pitt (William’s younger brother)
Gordinius, Counsellor to the Queen…Lady Harriot Pitt (William’s sister)
Pompilius, Counsellor to the Queen…Mr. William Pitt 
Antonio, Noblemen of Clarinium…Mr. James Pitt
Aurelius, Noblemen of Clarinium…Lady Harriot Pitt
Minerius, Noblemen of Clarinium…Lady Harriot Pitt
Constantia, Queen and Regent of Lady Clarinium…Lady Hester Pitt (William’s eldest sister)”

The original prologue Pitt wrote for the performance on August 22, 1772 is written as follows:

"Prologue - We puny treaders of the adventurous stage attempt a task above our youthful Age. Deign gracious Lady and illustrious Peer to grant the boon of an indulgent ear. Condemn us not, if rashly we are bold to shew what Knights and Tyrants did of old. And how the cause of Justice then prevail’d and how the strength of wicked Magic fail’d. Applause, we dare not, Patience ‘tis we count. We, who come out, alone for wanton sport. Say not a Pigmy represents a Knight: Nor yet deride the weapons of the fight. Kindly pass o’er each great mistake or blot, Tho’ we deserve your kisses, kiss us not. William Pitt."

It appears as though the first performance may have been for their parents, however Pitt’s friend Henry Addington (Lord Sidmouth) later recalled that his family (Dr. Addington, Henry’s father, was Pitt the elder’s family physician) attended one of these performances (see Philip Ziegler’s 1965 biography Addington). 

On May 20, 1773, Laurentius was performed again at Burton Pynsent. William wrote and spoke a second prologue, which reflects his growing maturity:

2nd Prologue - “Of Wars, and Discords fierce, we dare to tell, Of Kings in Dangers plung’d, of Treasons fell. A Mournful Queen in deep Distress Appears. Oh! May she gain Compassion by her Tears! Her Tale claims Pity, tho ‘tis void of Art: Griefs simply told, may move the gen’rous Heart. Chiefly, if the propitious deign Attend; Patron of Science and his Country’s Friend (a reference to Lord Stanhope); whom Learning, Virtue, their Protector onto, while Freedom glories in her fav’rite Son: Thrice blest our Muse! If his Applause she gains ‘tis all she asks if He commend her Strains.”

Not bad for a fourteen year old!

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