7 February 2014

Pitt & Eleanor Eden: Draft letters of his 'unavailing regret' at breaking it off



                                        Eleanor Eden (later the Countess of Buckinghamshire) by John Hoppner


Many of those familiar with the life of William Pitt the younger will be aware that he never married, and many will also know that he had contemplated marriage to Miss Eleanor Eden, Lord Auckland's eldest daughter. Pitt was 37 years old at the time, and she was 19. That Pitt had seriously considered marrying her is beyond a doubt. In the end, however, he did not. 

The final letters that were exchanged between Pitt and Lord Auckland over Pitt's resolution not to propose marriage to Eleanor have been printed in their entirety in various places, including Rosebery's (1900) Letters relating to The Love Episode of William Pitt and Hague's (2004) William Pitt the Younger. However, what has never, to my knowledge, been published, are the draft letters Pitt wrote before he sent the final letters to Auckland. 


These letters, still unbound, are located at The British Library under BL Add Ms 59704. They are completely separate from the rest of the Auckland Papers, and form the private correspondence between William Pitt and Lord Auckland regarding Pitt breaking off his relationship with Eleanor Eden. 

I reproduce them below with very careful transcription. The words written between the [...] are words that Pitt originally wrote, but later scratched out. Fortunately for posterity, he did not scratch out the words very effectively as they can still clearly be seen!

The initial draft letter from Pitt to Auckland is undated, but it was presumably composed before 20 January 1797 as Pitt initially mentions not visiting for "the last Week," and then in the next draft Pitt refers to the length of time since he visited Eden Farm in Beckenham (where the Auckland's lived) as not happening for "last Ten days":


(Source: BL Add Ms 59704, ff. 1-6)

“My dear Lord

Altho' the [Suspense with respect to] anxious Expectation of Public News would at all Events have made it difficult for me to for the last Week leave Town, it is far from being the only Reason that has [detained] kept me so long from Beckenham. I have really felt it impossible to allow myself to yield to the Temptation of returning [to your Society] thither without having (as far as might depend upon me) formed a decision on a Point [the most interesting] which I fear has remained in Suspense too long already. Having at length done so [on which] I should feel myself inexcusable if (painful as the Task is) I delayed opening myself to you without reserve. 
It can hardly be necessary to say that the Time I have passed in your Society has led to my forming Sentiments of very real attachment towards [all that belong to it] them all, and of much more than attachment towards One [of them] particularly. I should not do justice to my own Feelings or explain myself as frankly as I wish to do, if I did not own that every hour of my Acquaintance with her has served to augment and confirm that Impression, [I have however the mortification of thinking that I have given way to It farther than I ought to have done] and to convince me that whoever may have the Good Fortune to be united with her is likely to have more than his share of Human Happiness. Whether at any rate I would have any ground to hope that such might have been my lot, I [do not presume] am in no degree entitled to guess. 
But I have to reproach myself for having ever indulged the Idea on my own part as far as I have done without asking myself carefully and early enough what were the difficulties [on my own Part] in the Way of its [compleat] being realised. I have felt it indispensable to do so; and after the fullest and calmest Reflection, that I am capable of on every Circumstance that ought to come under my Consideration (for her sake at least as much as for my own), I am unalterably convinced that [I have the mortification to find them] the obstacles to it are decisive and insurmountable. It is my first duty under these Circumstances to state to you plainly the Result. To enter into detail would at all Events be useless. It would be almost a Consolation to me to know that [my doing so] what I have now said is superfluous, and that the Idea I have entertained has been confined solely to my own Mind. If this should be the Case, I am sure this Communication will be buried in Silence and Oblivion. If it should not, I know that I but consult the Feelings of all those who are most in my thoughts, by confiding it to your discretion. And, in doing so, I have every reason to rely on your kindness and prudence and on those Sentiments of mutual Friendship which I hope will not be affected by any unavoidable Change at the present moment and at the present moment only in the Habits of our Intercourse. 
For myself, I will only add that, Separated as I must be for a Time from [a Society where] those with whom I have passed many of [the happiest moments of my Life] my happiest moments, the Recollection of that Person will be long present to my Mind. [And if I know myself it will be] the greatest Pleasure and best Consolation I can [ever] receive will be if I [can find the opportunity of proving as strongly as I wish to] am ever enabled to prove how deep an Interest I shall always take in whatever may concern [their Welfare and Happiness, and can then convince them that] them. 
At all events, I am sure they [are] will not be less dear to me thro’ life than they would have had a right to expect [if] from the nearest and closest Connection. Believe me etc etc….”


Below is the second draft letter from Pitt to Auckland, whereby he touches up the letter to remove quite a lot of the emotive language he originally wrote in the first draft.


(Source: BL Add Ms 59704, ff. 7-10):


“Downing Street, Jan 20th 1797

Most Private

My dear Lord

Altho’ the anxious Expectation of Public News would at all Events have made it difficult for me to leave Town during these last Ten days, you may perhaps have begun to think that it cannot have been the only reason which has kept me so long from Beckenham. The Truth is, that I have really felt it impossible to allow myself to yield to the Temptation of returning thither, without having (as far as might depend upon me) formed a decision on a Point which, I am sensible, has remained in suspense too long already. Having at length done so, I should feel myself inexcusable if (painful as the Task is) any Consideration prevented me from opening myself to you without reserve. 
It can hardly, I think, be necessary to say that the Time I have passed among your Family has led to my forming Sentiments of very real Attachment towards them all, and of much more than Attachment towards one whom I need not name. Nor should I do justice to my own Feelings or explain myself as frankly as I think I ought to do, if I did not own that every hour of my Acquaintance with the Person to whom you will easily conceive I refer has served to augment and confirm that Impression; in short, has convinced me that whoever may have the good fortune ever to be united with her is destined to more than his Share of Human Happiness. Whether at any Rate I could have had any ground to hope that such might have been my Lot, I am in no degree entitled to guess. 
I have to reproach myself for having ever indulged the Idea on my own part as far as I have done without asking myself carefully and early enough, what were the difficulties in the way of its being realised. I have suffered myself to overlook them too long; But having now at length reflected as fully and as calmly as I am able on every Circumstance that ought to come under my Consideration (at least as much for her sake as for my own) I am compelled to say that I find the obstacles to it decisive and insurmountable. In thus conveying to you, my dear Lord, what has been passing in my Mind, and its painful but unavoidable result, I have felt it impossible to say Less. 
And yet it would almost be a Consolation to me to know that even what I have said is superfluous, and that the Idea which I have entertained has been confined solely to myself. If this should be the Case, I am sure this Communication will be buried in Silence and Oblivion. On any other Supposition, I know that I but consult the Feelings of those who must be most in my thoughts, by Confiding it to your discretion. And in doing so, I have every reason to rely on your Prudence and Kindness and on those Sentiments of mutual Friendship which I hope will not be affected by any Change which may at the present moment be unavoidable in what have lately been the Habits of our Intercourse. 
For myself, Allow me only to add, that separated as I must be for a Time from those among whom I have passed many of my happiest moments, the Recollection of that [Person] Period will be long present to my mind. The greatest Pleasure and best Consolation I can [ever] receive will be if I am ever enabled to prove how deep an Interest I must always take in whatever may concern them. 
They will not I am sure, be less dear to me thro’ Life, than they would have had a right to expect from the nearest and closest Connection. Believe me, My dear Lord, Under all Circumstances, Ever Sincerely and Faithfully Yours, W. Pitt”


After Auckland received Pitt's first letter of the 20th January, he was obviously displeased. I can't even begin to imagine how Eleanor was feeling. Her innermost feelings for Pitt were never publicly recorded, but as Auckland refers to her not quitting (leaving) her room for several days, it can be inferred that she was in love with Pitt. Auckland himself desired to meet with Pitt to discuss Pitt's reasoning for not marrying his daughter. He was hoping an interval of time might elapse whereby the "insurmountable" circumstances barring the marriage might be overcome. Pitt's mind, however, was firmly decided. He was not the type of man to settle painful personal matters face-to-face, hence why he broke it off by letter. In any case, going by the written draft letters, it seemed to be an extremely difficult experience for Pitt, whatever the decisive "circumstances" might have been.

Below is the draft of the second letter from Pitt to Auckland: 

(Source BL Add Ms 59704, ff. 11- 14)

“Downing Street, Jan 22, 1797

My dear Lord,

If I felt much [and] more than I could express in writing to you yesterday, you will guess that those Feelings are all, if possible, heightened by the Nature of your Answer. I will not attempt to describe [how much I feel] the sense I have of your kindness, and [that of] Lady Auckland’s, much less how deeply my mind is affected by what you tell me of the Sentiments of another Person [unfortunately] unhappily too nearly interested in the subject in Question. I can only say (but it is saying every Thing) that that Consideration now encreases my unavailing regret, as much as under different Circumstances it might have contributed to the Joy and Happiness of my Life. 
Indeed, my dear Lord, I did not bring myself [after painful struggle] to the step I have taken without having, as far as I am able, again & again considered every Point by which I must finally govern my Conduct. I should deceive you and every one concerned as well as myself, if I entertained the hope that such an Interval as you suggest could vary the Grounds of my opinion. 
It is impossible for me to state them at large. [It is sufficient to say that they arise exclusively from Considerations Personal to myself, and that] the Circumstances of every man’s private and Personal situation can often an various accounts never be fully known and fairly judged of by no one but by himself, even where, as in the present Case, others may be equally interested in the Result. [In truth, on the present occasion] I have had too many Temptations in the opposite Scale to distrust [the Grounds of] my own decision. I had to contend with [every Emotion which could arise from] the Sentiments which must naturally be produced by a near Observation of [all] the Qualities and Endowments you have described, with those of real Admiration, and cordial Esteem and Confidence. 
If any Thing collateral could add strength to these Sentiments, They would have derived it (as you know from what I have said already), from every Circumstance with respect to all Parts of your Family, which could tend to render each a Connection in every possible View dear and valuable to my Mind. 
Believe me, I have not lightly or easily sacrificed my best hopes and [most ardent] earnest Wishes to my Conviction and Judgment. Believe me also, that farther Explanation or Discussion can answer no good Purpose. And let me entreat you to spare me and yourself the Pain of urging it farther. It could only lead to prolonged suspense and encreased Anxiety, without the possibility of its producing any ultimate Advantage. Feeling this Impression thus strongly and unalterably on my Mind, It is a severe but indispensable duty for the sake of all who are concerned, to state it (whatever it may cost me), as distinctly and explicitly as I have done. 
I remain Ever Sincerely & Affectionately Yrs, WP.”

Lastly, the second draft of this letter was written at 2pm on Jan 22, 1797 from Downing Street. It was again marked as "Most Private." The last sentence is touching and expressive of the genuine pain Pitt must have experienced when he ended it with Eleanor Eden:

(Source: BL Add Ms 59704, ff. 15-18)

“...I have only to hope that Reading this Letter will no where be attended with half the Pain I have felt in writing It. I remain, My dear Lord, Ever Sincerely & Affectionately Yours, W. Pitt" 

Um, yeah. Pitt was not asexual. I rest my case.

In my next post, I am discussing Bishop Tomline's Chapter XXVIII of the unpublished later volumes of his Memoirs of the Life of the Right Honourable William Pitt. Although the published volumes are widely regarded as the worst biographies of Pitt, especially given Tomline's long-term friendship with the Minister, let it be known that there are some interesting bits about Pitt's private life in the unpublished memoirs!

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for all the work you present here. Your writing, eye for details, and photographs make William Pitt the Younger very vivid in the mind's eye. Not only that, but you make research read like an adventure.

    Sincerely,
    Mary

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    Replies
    1. Many thanks for your kind words, Mary! My intention is to present a very personal, yet vivid, Pitt as he was in private life.

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