13 November 2013

The Duke of Wellington on Pitt's early death

In Stanhope’s (1862: 346-7) Life of the Right Honourable William Pitt (Vol. 4,) he notes a conversation he had with the Duke of Wellington at Walmer on October 25, 1838:


"The Duke and I [Stanhope] spoke of Mr. Pitt, lamenting his early death. "I did not think," said the Duke, "that he would have died so soon. He died in January 1806; and I met him at Lord Camden’s, in Kent, and I think that he did not seem ill in the November previous. He was extremely lively, and in good spirits. It is true that he was by way of being an invalid at that time. A great deal was always said about his taking his rides - for he used then to ride eighteen or twenty miles every day - and great pains were taken to send forward his luncheon, bottled porter, I think, and getting him a beef-steak or mutton chop ready at some place fixed beforehand. That place was always mentioned to the party, so that those kept at home in the morning might join the ride there if they pleased. On coming home from these rides, they used to put on dry clothes, and to hold a Cabinet, for all the party were members of the Cabinet, except me and, I think, the Duke of Montrose. At dinner Mr. Pitt drank little wine; but it was at that time the fashion to sup, and he then took a great deal of port-wine and water.

In the same month I also met Mr. Pitt at the Lord Mayor’s dinner; he did not seem ill. On that occasion I remember he returned thanks in one of the best and neatest speeches I ever heard in my life. It was in very few words. The Lord Mayor had proposed his health as one who had been the Saviour of England, and would be the Saviour of the rest of Europe. Mr. Pitt then got up, disclaimed the compliment as applied to himself, and added, “England he saved herself by her exertions, and the rest of Europe will be saved by her example!” That was all; he was scarcely up two minutes; yet nothing could be more perfect. I remember another curious thing at that dinner. Erskine was there. Now Pitt had always over Erskine a great ascendancy - the ascendancy of terror. Sometimes, in the House of Commons, he could keep Erskine in check by merely putting out his hand or making a note. At this dinner, Erskine’s health having being drank, and Erskine rising to return thanks, Pitt held up his finger, and said to him across the table, “Erskine! remember that they are drinking your health as a distinguished Colonel of Volunteers.” Erskine, who had intended, as we heard, to go off upon Rights of Juries, the State Trials, and other political points, was quite put out; he was awed like a school-boy at school, and in his speech kept strictly within the limits enjoined him.”

Reference:

Stanhope (1862) Life of the Right Honourable William Pitt (Vol. 4). London: John Murray, pp. 346-7.

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