6 January 2014

'This irreparable loss': The 4th Earl Aberdeen (Haddo) on Pitt's death

On a recent research excursion to The British Library, I viewed some of the Aberdeen Papers. I was primarily interested in reading the 4th Earl of Aberdeen's (Lord Haddo) memorandum on politics for the month of January (and part of February) 1806. This journal included Aberdeen's reminiscences of one of his much-lamented guardians - the late First Lord of the Treasury, William Pitt - who died unexpectedly that month at the premature age of 46.  The memorandum begins just after Pitt's death, and the grief expressed in Aberdeen's account is worth quoting in full:

"25th [January] Saturday at Wimbledon [Lord Melville's villa] - Mr. Pitt having spent some time at Bath without much benefit returned to Putney in order to attend the ensuing meeting of Parliament. His health remained in a fluctuating state, and accordingly when Parliament did meet on the 21st of this month he was too ill to attend. I received on the evening of the 22d a note from Lord Melville [Henry Dundas, another of Aberdeen's guardians and a long-standing political associate and friend of Pitt] intimating that his [Pitt's] death might be expected, and on the morning of the 23d I was informed he was no more, having expired at a quarter past four that morning.

"From my having lived with him on terms of the utmost intimacy from my childhood, from his having been my guardian, and from his constant affection for me, the dismay and affliction which I suffered and still do suffer under this irreparable loss, by being absorbed in individual feelings renders me callous or insensible to those of a public nature yet the idea is dreadful! The sun is indeed set, and what can now follow but the blackest night! Lord Melville breakfasted with me this morning on his return to Bath. He embraced me with tears, and for some time could not speak. We at last expatiated on the dreadful calamity which we and the country had sustained; I never witnessed grief more poignant; he [Melville] almost wished to a general apathy to come upon him as the only relief, and declared that if he lived a hundred years it would be impossible to remain an hour without having the image of Mr. Pitt in his mind. He was glad to hasten out of this house [Melville's house at Wimbledon, presumably from which Aberdeen wrote this  entry] where every object recalled him, indeed when I recollect that at the vey(?) on which I write, I have seen him a thousand times, the bitterness of grief is past endurance..."

A few further remarks in Aberdeen's memorandum are noteworthy:

"London 31st [January] Mr. Pitt, among the Last Words he uttered, exclaimed, 'Oh my Country.' Anxiety certainly killed him. He was anxious beyond measure to meet Parliament on the discussion of the Treaties."

Lastly, below is an anecdote which has been repeated by quite a few biographers of Pitt:

 "[February] 27th I have heard Mr. Pitt say more than once that he had rather a single speech of Lord Bolingbroke's were preserved than all the lost books of Livy. He was fond of praising Lord B.'s style, which he has often told me he considered as the most perfect and desirable in the English Language."

In an earlier note written on the 24th of January, the day after Pitt's passing, Aberdeen writes "I am resolved to recollect, and write down, many things which I have heard Mr. Pitt say in the course of this journal. Nothing fell from his lips without its weight." Unfortunately, apart from several more pages of journal entries, the account ends abruptly with the final entry being added in late February 1806. I desperately scrolled through the many blank pages of the journal, and alas, there was no more.


Aberdeen Papers, BL Add Ms 43337 (Aberdeen's 'Memorandum on Politics').

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