9 December 2013

Chateaubriand on Pitt: He was 'something above the ordinary line'

Before I commence with Chateaubriand's account of William Pitt, I'd like to make it crystal clear that I'm no admirer of Mr. Chateaubriand. It should also be known that Chateaubriand was never on intimate terms with Pitt, and in actual fact, he barely knew him.

Nevertheless, Pitt held such a significant and powerful position in the landscape of late 18th and early 19th century British politics that we are left with numerous observations of him by his contemporaries. Suffice it to say that not all of these anecdotes and descriptions are necessarily endearing.

Below is an extract of Chateaubriand's assessment of Pitt:

"Pitt, tall and slender, had an air at once melancholy and sarcastic. His delivery was cold, his intonation monotonous, his action scarcely perceptible. At the same time, the lucidness and the fluency of his thoughts, the logic of his arguments, suddenly irradiated with flashes of eloquence, rendered his talent something above the ordinary line."

What is most striking is that although Chateaubriand wasn't overly fond of Pitt by any stretch of the imagination, he still managed to pay him a huge compliment in admitting that his eloquence and oratorical powers were beyond the norm.


Chateaubriand, in Prescott, W. H. (1864) Biographical and Critical Miscellanies. Philadelphia, USA: J.B. Lippincott & Co., p. 289.

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