23 February 2014

Political Oratory & Pitt's Eloquence

In an undated memorandum written long after William Pitt's death, his last private secretary William Dacres Adams (1776-1862) paid tribute to Pitt's incredible powers of political oratory and eloquence. 

It is a moving homage to a man whose voice a modern audience will never be able to hear:

“But who shall describe the wonder of his [Pitt's] Eloquence? What living tongue or pen can portray them? Who that has not himself heard, and felt, and been carried away by that Enchantment can understand its full power and effect? I have always lamented the fleeting nature of genuine Oratory, of the highest order, such as Mr. Pitt’s, and the absolute impossibility of seizing and communicating its force to others. Difficult as it was to follow and embody in a written form the glorious passages which he poured forth in the course of his greatest triumphs. Even if the Words could have been preserved yet the occasion which gave them birth, the fire which animated them, the grandeur of his Action, the deep dignity of his Voice, the lightening of his eye, and all which constituted the essence and life of his Eloquence, were too ethereal to be grasped by mortal touch, and evaporated under every attempt at description. The Sister Arts of Poetry and Painting are exempted from this fate. If “Painting mute and motionless steals but a glance of time,” that glance is fixed and permanent, and is transmitted for the admiration of Posterity. The Poet is still more happy in his Art. The emanations of his Genius are destined to enjoy a still more enduring triumph. They are written and remain. But the Glories of the Orator, high and transcendent as they are, vanish with the breath which gives them utterance. 

I am one of the few remaining persons who have been often called to partake of the rich delights of those intellectual Banquets, and it is those alone to whom the high privilege has been given, of drinking as from a fountain head of those streams of pure and living Eloquence at the very moment of his inspiration, who can form an adequate conception of that mighty Magick, which gave him dominion and mastery over the minds and hearts of men. But, transcendent and dazzling as was the fire of his Eloquence, mighty as was the grasp of his mind in directing, in such perilous times, the energies and resources of the Empire, yet, when I recall him to my remembrance, I think of Mr. Pitt, not as the brilliant and persuasive Orator, nor as the Great Minister of so great a Country, but as the kind and indulgent friend. 

It has been well said of him, that he went into the House of Commons, not to bow, but to do the business of the State, and he did it. There, he stood firm and unbending, in conscious uprightness and full assurance of the soundness of his views for the general good, to do the work of his high Office. But when that work was done he returned to his domestick hearth with all the amenity of a disengaged though fruitful mind, and with that strait forward simplicity of character and manners which is the usual concomitant of true greatness. 

At some such moments it has been my fortune and privilege to be near him, there was such an indescribable charm in his presence that I can truly say I never was admitted to it without a full consciousness of my own happiness, and the daily and hourly intercourse with him which the duties of my situation rendered necessary only increased, as time rolled on, that feeling of enjoyment. He was truly a man to be loved. Under all the trying circumstances by which he was surrounded, the desertion of friends, the animosity of opponents, with declining health, and the whole burthen of the State, and the conduct of a raging War resting upon his shoulders, I never for a moment saw the sweetness of his temper ruffled, nor his constancy shaken. Notwithstanding the immeasurable difference between us, in every respect, his demeanour to me, through all the changes, was the same - a proof and example of that happy nature which mitigated the splendour of his greatness into the most delightful companionship, and raise those who came within its influence to a footing and fellowship with himself. 

Such was Mr. Pitt. Such as he was his memory will be ever dear to me, and I shall cherish it in my heart to the last hour of my existence with the warmest and most unalterable attachment.” - William Dacres Adams [f. 57.1]

The above passage was printed in The Times newspaper on the centenary of Pitt’s death, with this short message before it:

“To the editor of The Times:
Sir. - In the event of your noticing in The Times the 100th anniversary of Mr. Pitt’s death, which occurs next Tuesday, the 23rd instant, I enclose a copy of a memorandum written by my grandfather, William Dacres Adams, who was his private secretary. I am, Sir, your obedient servant, G.F. Adams. Holly Mount, Powyke, Worcester, Jan. 18. [1906]”


BL Add Ms 89036/1/17, f. 57.1

The Times. January 23, 1906.

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