31 March 2014

William Dacres Adams & Philip Stanhope: Bonding over Pitt

In 1861, the 5th Earl (Philip Henry) Stanhope was approached by a Mr. Pollock, and asked whether he was aware that William Pitt's last private secretary William Dacres Adams was still alive. Adams was in his mid-80s, and living at 'The Old House' in Sydenham, Kent, then one of the largest private estates in the area. Stanhope was naturally interested in speaking with someone who once knew Pitt, so he wrote to Adams straightaway.

Fig. 1: The Old House, Sydenham Road, Sydenham, c. 1895.

As a result of this introduction, Adams and Stanhope began a friendship and correspondence which lasted until Adams's death the following year.  In their affecting letters, which are very voluminous considering they only corresponded for a single year, they bonded over discussions and reflections of William Pitt. Adams admitted to Earl Stanhope that he had heeded Lady Hester Stanhope's injunctions just after Pitt's death, and had kept a large stash of Pitt's private and political papers "in a cupboard the last half a century." [1] 

Fig. 2: Philip Stanhope, 5th Earl Stanhope, by Ernest Edwards (1863), NPG, London.

Stanhope and Adams met for luncheon at each other's houses,  and swapped Pitt's papers (Stanhope was still writing his Life of Pitt). Stanhope also consulted Adams's reminiscences of Mr. Pitt, and his time as Pitt's last private secretary (May 1804-January 1806). It emerges from the letters that Stanhope and Adams were close during their short acquaintance; Stanhope implicitly relied on Adams's testimony. It is also apparent that Adams was genuinely fond of Mr. Pitt. In one of his letters to Stanhope, Adams tells him that he doesn't regret that Pitt's speeches are not more full and complete, "...because I think that any Report, however carefully and accurately made, would fail to convey an idea of their [Pitt's] power and affect upon the minds and feelings of the Hearers - or the overflowing emotion which they [the words] produced," [2] and he reflected that "the spirit which animated them would be lost." [3] Adams made a cogent point. Reading even the best Parliamentary orations in text form can never convey the same power over the mind as listening to the orator himself. 

Adams was fond of Mr. Pitt's memory, and in one of his letters to Stanhope he said that Pitt's death was "the first great affliction" of his life. [4] Adams was 30 years old when Pitt died. James Stanhope, the 5th Earl's uncle, had given Adams a lock of Pitt's hair at his death. When Adams told Earl Stanhope about the lock of hair, Stanhope gave Adams a locket to put Pitt's hair inside it. Poignantly, Adams wore the locket around his neck until the time of his death. He was a man who truly revered Pitt.

 William Dacres Adams died on June 8, 1862. It may fairly be said that on that very day, the last living person who personally knew William Pitt the younger passed away. Adams's death marked the end of the living memory of Mr. Pitt's life. Since that time, we have had to rely on second-hand sources. 

Fig. 3: William Dacres Adams grave at St. Bartholomew's Church, Sydenham

Fig. 4: William Dacres Adams grave at St. Bartholomew's Church, Sydenham

For those interested in William Dacres Adams, a man who truly loved William Pitt, he’s buried at St Bartholomew’s Church in Sydenham. As was the fate of many Georgian properties in the 20th century, his house in Sydenham was demolished in 1902 to make way for new building developments.


1. William Dacres Adams to Philip Henry (5th Earl) Stanhope. Kent History & Library Centre, Stanhope of Chevening Manuscripts, Pitt MSS: U1590/C405/2.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. http://www.ideal-homes.org.uk/lewisham/assets/galleries/sydenham/the-old-house. Accessed on 31 March 2014.

Image Credits:

Fig. 1: The Old House, Sydenham, c. 1895. It was William Dacres Adams's house at the end of his life. Source: Ideal Homes

Fig. 2: Philip Henry Stanhope, the 5th Earl Stanhope, by Ernest Edwards (1863). Source: NPG

Fig. 3: William Dacres Adams's grave, St. Bartholomew's Church, Sydenham (my photo).

Fig. 4: William Dacres Adams's grave, St. Bartholomew's Church, Sydenham (my photo).

28 March 2014

'The most embarrassing possible'

Henry Addington, the Speaker of the House of Commons at time of Pitt's one reported foray into courtship, was privy to the secret of Pitt's interest in Eleanor Eden. Judging by the contents of Pitt's letter to Addington dated January 23, 1797 - the day after the relationship with Eden was officially considered as over - Addington may have also known the reasons underpinning why Pitt broke it off. Unfortunately, Pitt does not tell all in his letters. Indeed, he was always very careful with what he wrote, and this was particularly the case after he became First Lord of the Treasury. 

At one pm on Monday, January 23, 1797, Pitt wrote to Addington from Hollwood to confirm that the intended marriage to Lord Auckland's eldest daughter Eleanor Eden was not going to happen:

"Most Private,

My dear Sir,

Knowing your friendly Anxiety and not liking to trust to the Accidents of the Post, I send this by a Messenger; and for so distressful a Subject, I have at length as good an Account to send you as I could expect. The first Answer indeed which I received on Saturday [January 21], tho' thoroughly kind, was the most embarrassing possible, as it stated the Sentiments entertained to be mutual, and pressed for Explanation and discussion, proposing at the same time any Interval of delay in order to take the Chance of overcoming the difficulties, and desiring me to continue coming [to Eden Farm, the Auckland family residence] in the Interval as if nothing had happened. - I had then nothing left but to convey in my Answer quite explicitly, tho with as much Tenderness as I could, that the decision I had felt myself obliged to take was final, and that farther discussion could only produce encreased Anxiety, and could lead to no Good. - This was understood and received as I meant it should; and the Answer I received last night considers the Thing as over, and proposes to contradict the Reports [of the intended marriage] gradually, and with the delicacy which the Subject requires. I hope I may collect from the Manner in which it is written that the Shock has been as little distressful in its Consequences, to any Part of the Family [a reference to Eleanor as well] as I could flatter myself. - If that Hope should be well founded, I trust I can command my Feelings enough to bear the rest, and not to be wanting either to the Calls of Public Duty, or to what yet remains to me of the Private Relations of Life. Among these, the Recollection of what I owe to your kindness and friendship will I trust always hold a principal place in my Thoughts. 

Ever Sincerely Yours,
W. Pitt.

I mean to return to Town [London], to a Cabinet tomorrow, and have almost resolved to go to Lord Cornwallis's at the End of the Week." [1]

Although Pitt's reasoning for ending the courtship remains a mystery, from this letter it seems as though he was emotionally affected by it. His resolve was firm, and unwavering; he would not change his mind once his decision had been made. Discussion was futile, but Pitt wasn't unfeeling: he hoped that "the Shock has been as little distressful in its Consequences, to any Part of the Family." [2] He is thinking of Eleanor's feelings. His emotions are there in the passage, "...I trust I can command my Feelings enough to bear the rest." [3] He assures Addington that his adherence to "the Calls of Public Duty" will still be paramount, and also hints at not lacking in "...what yet remains to me of the Private Relations of Life." [4] Pitt is cagey; he isn't explicit on what he means here. Perhaps it was meant to be a general statement, but Pitt's feelings were genuine.

When Addington - then Viscount Sidmouth - was 82 years old, many years after Pitt's death, the Irish statesman and writer John Wilson Croker came to visit him. Amongst other preserved anecdotes, Sidmouth told Croker that "Pitt is said never to have had a female attachment; it is not true. He had, I believe, more than one. One I know of; it was to the present Dowager Lady Buckinghamshire, then Miss [Eleanor] Eden." [5] This conversation took place in 1839; most of his and Pitt's contemporaries were deceased, and I cannot see what, at that long distance of time, would have been Sidmouth's motivation for lying. That he was clearly privy to Pitt's relationship with Eleanor Eden is beyond a question. He attested that Pitt had 'female attachments,' and believed Pitt had more than one. He knew Pitt from childhood, and he was a close personal friend. I trust Sidmouth's testimony.


1. William Pitt to Henry Addington, January 23, 1797. Devon Record Office, Sidmouth MSS: 152M/C1797/OZ/7.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Jennings, L. J. (ed.) (1884) The Croker Papers: The Correspondence and Diaries of the late Right Honourable John Wilson Croker, Secretary to the Admiralty from 1809 to 1830, Volume 2, p. 340.

A Challenge to a Duel

Fig 1: George Tierney, MP for Southwark, by William Nutter

On Friday, May 25th, 1798, Pitt brought forward an emergency bill in the House of Commons to increase the supply of naval manpower in the war against France. The objective was to lift the existing exemptions from naval service which allowed men employed in the river and sea trades to evade military duty. The opposition MP and staunch Foxite George Tierney objected to the bill, calling for more time to consider it. In response, Pitt lashed out at Tierney's antipathy towards augmenting the navy, and stated that Tierney's reasoning for this might be accounted for as an attempt "to obstruct the defence of the country." [1] Tierney took umbrage with Pitt's accusation. He appealed to the Speaker (Henry Addington) that Pitt's language was "surely not parliamentary," and should be brought to order. [2] However, instead of interposing to mitigate the situation, the Speaker did not state whether he believed the language Pitt used was parliamentary or otherwise, and instead waited to hear Pitt's explanation. 

Mr. Pitt refused to retract or explain what he had uttered before. In substance, Pitt said he "knew very well that it was unparliamentary to state the motives which actuated the opinions of Members, but it was impossible to go into arguments without sometimes hinting at the motives which influenced an opposition to it." [3] Nothing more was openly said in the House. The bill was read three times, sent to the House of Lords (who passed it the same day), and the following day it received the royal assent. [4] That, however, was far from the end of the confrontation. On the same night as the debate, May 25th, Tierney wrote to Pitt - challenging him to a duel:

"Hertford Street, Friday Night [25th May]


In the debate this Evening on your motion for leave to bring in a Bill for the Augmentation of the Navy you were pleased to declare that no man could deplore it in the manner I did unless it were from a wish to impede the defence of the Country. On being called to order you said something which savoured of Explanation, and with which it is not impossible but that, considering the latitude usually allowed in explaining Expressions made use of in the course of parliamentary discussions, I might have been persuaded to have been satisfied. Your Explanation however having afterwards been alluded to by another member, you thought proper in reply to say, "I gave no Explanation because I wished to abide by the words I had used." Upon this new and unprovoked Attack I withdrew from the House [which explains why the matter then dropped], and instantly committed to Paper the above offensive expression by which you chose deliberately and unwarrantably to repeat, & confirm your original Insult. Under these Circumstances whatever pain I may experience in being driven to call upon you in the manner I now do, it is a consolation to me to reflect that the part I am compelled to take is cast upon me by your own conduct. That you cannot justify the gross Imputation you ventured to throw upon me, & that without a total disregard to my feelings as a private & and my character as a public man it cannot be expected that I should submit to it. I know what is due to your particular Situation [Pitt was head of the government], but I also know and I trust you will recollect what a Gentleman, as wantonly provoked as I have been, has a right to require. Mr. Walpole [Tierney's second in the ensuing duel] also has the goodness to be the Bearer of this, [and] will communicate with any Friend [i.e. someone chosen by Pitt to be his second] you may be pleased to name for the purpose of privately arranging this Business. I am, Sir, Y[ou]r Obed[ient] Ser[van]t, George Tierney." [5]

Pitt received Tierney's challenge on Saturday May 26th, and he immediately accepted. Pitt then made the necessary arrangements. He wrote his will, and contacted Addington to inform him of the situation. Pitt initially wanted his close friend Thomas Steele, who was MP for Chichester and at that time Paymaster of the Forces, to be his 'second' in the duel. Finding Steele unavailable, Pitt then called on his friend Dudley Ryder, who was also joint Paymaster of the Forces at that time. Ryder served as Pitt's second, and Walpole acted in that capacity for Tierney. On the following day, Sunday May 27th, 1798 - the day before Pitt's 39th birthday - Pitt fought a mercifully bloodless duel with Tierney on a site where Wimbledon Common joins to Putney Heath. 

Although the duel did not result in any injury or loss of life, a few days later Pitt was in his sickbed. He would not be seen publicly or in the Commons for weeks afterwards. [6] 


1. Gifford, J. (1809) A history of the Political Life of the Right Honourable William Pitt, Vol. V. London: Cadell & Davies, p. 264.

2. Ibid.

3. Gifford, J. (1809) A history of the Political Life of the Right Honourable William Pitt, Vol. V. London: Cadell & Davies, pp. 266-7.

4. Ibid.

5. George Tierney to the Rt. Hon. William Pitt. Devon Record Office, Sidmouth MSS: 152M/C1798/OZ/11.

6. Hague, W. (2005) William Pitt the Younger. London: Harper Press, p. 427.

Image Credit:

Fig 1: George Tierney by William Nutter, stipple engraving, published circa 1857. NPG D19248. George Tierney

25 March 2014

Good Enough for Dr. Goodenough: Pitt's first speech in the House of Commons

On 26th of February 1781, William Pitt made his first speech in the House of Commons in support of Edmund Burke's bill for the regulation of the civil list. He was still only 21 years old. Dr. Goodenough (later Bishop of Carlisle) wrote to the Reverend Edward Wilson, Pitt's childhood tutor, the next day to relay the happy event:

"I cannot resist the natural Impulse of giving pleasure by telling you & Mrs. Wilson that the famous Wiliam Pitt who made so capital a figure in the last Reign [a reference to Pitt's father, the 1st Lord Chatham] is happily restor'd to this Country. He made his first Publick Appearance in the Senate last night. All the old members [of the House of Commons] recognis'd him instantly, & most of the Young Ones said he appear'd the very man they had so often heard describ'd. The language, the manner, the gesture, the action were the same, & there wanted only a few wrinkles in the face, & some Marks of Age, to identify the absolute Person of the late Earl of Chatham." [1]

Reverend Wilson later passed on Dr. Goodenough's letter to Dr. Anthony Addington, Lord Chatham's former physician, and a copy of it remained in the Addington family. 

Excuse the pun, but if Pitt's maiden speech was good enough for Dr. Goodenough, it must have been something to see!


1. Dr. Goodenough to Rev. Edward Wilson, 27th February 1781. Sidmouth MSS, Devon Record Office: 152M/C1781/OZ/2.

24 March 2014

Pitt & The Pompadour Pony: Reminiscences of Frederick Reynolds

Fig. 1: Frederick Reynolds, engraved by George T. Doo, after John Raphael Smith

The playwright and dramatist Frederick Reynolds (1764-1841) wrote his memoirs later in life, and part of these accounts featured anecdotes of William Pitt the younger. His father was an attorney to the 1st Lord Chatham (William Pitt the Elder), and Reynolds remembered going with his father to Hayes Place - the home of the Pitt family - in the early 1770s. There he met Lord Chatham's family for the first time, including their precocious young son William Pitt (then only about 11 or 12 years old). What followed next, however, was not something Reynolds expected:

"His Lordship [Lord Chatham], I remember, was very kind to me, and on quitting the room with my father, desired his son William Pitt, then a boy about four years older than I was, to remain with, and amuse me, during their absence. Somehow, I did not feel quite bold on being left alone with this young gentleman. For a time, he never spoke, till at last, slyly glancing at him, to learn who was to commence the conversation, and observing mischief gathering in the corner of his eye, I retired to the window; "but gained nothing by my motion." He silently approached, and sharply tapping me on the shoulder, cried jeeringly, as he pointed to my feet, "So, my little hero, do you usually walk in spurs?" - "Walk?" I replied: "I rode here on my own pony." "Your own pony!" - He repeated with affected astonishment; "Your own pony? Upon my word! - and pray, what colour may he be? - probably blue, pink,  or pompadour?" At this moment, the present Lord Chatham [John Pitt, 2nd Lord Chatham, and William's older brother by 3 years] entering the room, the tormentor exclaimed, "I give you joy, brother, for you are now standing in the presence of no less a personage then the proprietor of the pompadour pony!" His brother frowned at him, and I was bursting with rage and vexation, when he coolly turned towards me, and said, "Your life is too valuable to be sported with. I hope you ride in armour?" "Be quiet, William - don't trifle so," cried his brother. "I am serious, John," he replied; "and if for the benefit of the present race he will preserve his life, I will take care it shall not be lost to posterity, for as my father intends writing a history of the late and present reigns mark my word, my little proprietor, I will find a niche for you, and your pompadour pony in the History of England." I could no longer restrain my spleen, and fairly stamped with passion to his great amusement. At this moment, the door opening, my facetious tormentor instantly cantered to the opposite side of the room, after the manner of a broken down pony, and then placing his finger on his lips, as if to forbid all tale-telling, disappeared at the other entrance. In course, every feeling of rage was smothered in the presence of the great Lord Chatham, and my father having taken his leave, mounted his horse, and trotted through the Park; I following on my pony, and delighting in my escape. 
But as I reached the gates, I was crossed in my path "by the fiend [William] again," - but, agreeably crossed, for he shook me by the hand with much good-humour, playfully asked my pardon, and then added, patting my pony, "He [Pitt] should at all times be happy to find both of us accommodation at Hayes, instead of a niche in the History of England." [1]

Frederick Reynolds was also fortunate to witness what was to be the last great speech of the 1st Lord Chatham:

"On the Duke of Richmond's motion, April 7th 1778, relative to the independence of America, Lord Chatham [William Pitt the Elder] rose from his bed, and, in the midst of pain and debility, attend the house [of Lords]. By the kindness of the Duke of Bedford, I stood close to the venerable statesman as he passed through the Peers' lobby; and I afterwards heard his speech during the debate. Never shall I forget the nervous and energetic tone in which he delivered the following passage: "I rejoice that the grave has not closed upon me, that I am still alive to lift my voice against the dismemberment of this ancient, and most noble, monarchy. Pressed down, as I am, by infirmity, I am little able to assist my country in this most perilous conjuncture; but, I will never consent, while I have sense and memory, to deprive the royal offspring of the House of Brunswick of their fairest inheritance." The Duke of Richmond having replied to his speech, Lord Chatham attempted to rise to answer him; but after two or three unsuccessful efforts, he fainted, and fell. There was but one feeling through the house, both parties rushed to his assistance; though, on the sudden accidental interruption of an ordinary orator's speech, the majority say, or seem to say, "for this relief, much thanks!" Yet, on this occasion, the only relief that could have gratified the most hostile would have been the continuation of his reply, by the venerable object of their interest. But this hope was vain: he was carried out of the house, under the care of Dr. Brocklesby, followed by many admirers and friends overwhelmed by grief and anxiety. Amongst that many, however, none so excited the general sympathy, and sincere commiseration, as the man in whom Lord Chatham afterwards lived again - his son William Pitt. His [William's] sighs were "deep, not loud," till he entered the carriage with his apparently dying parent, when, taking him by the hand, he would have given "sorrow vent," had not Dr. Brocklesby, and all around, assured him that there was no appearance of any immediate danger.
Lord Chatham only lingered for a few weeks, and breathed his last at Hayes, May the 11th, 1778. The same week, my father took me to see the bed in which he died, and his coffin; afterwards, I saw him lie in state in the Jerusalem Chamber [in what was part of the old Houses of Parliament]. This being the first time that I ever witnessed a ceremony of this description, the funereal appearance of the black hangings, and the appalling effect of all the other paraphernalia of death, aided by the melancholy paucity of lights, struck me with awe and terror. Old Wilbeir, his Lordship's faithful steward, stood near the body; and while I was conversing with him, relative to this lamentable event, to his, mine, and the astonishment of the whole room, the lights suddenly disappeared, and we were all involved in total darkness. The screams and cries of "take care of the corpse!" still ring in my ears. Owing to the vastness of the confusion, a considerable time elapsed before lights could again be procured; and at length, when they were, the spectral, haggard countenances of all around rendered even darkness less terrific. The sole cause of this confusion was a hair-brained barrister who, with a rapidity never before manifested in his profession, had with the assistance of his hat instantaneously extinguished the few tapers without discovery; thus affording another illustration of the the old remark, that it is always in the power of a reckless individual to violate the decorum of the most imposing and numerous assembly." [2] 

Reynolds also remembered seeing Pitt when he was a barrister on the western circuit in about August 1780: 

"...I accompanied my father on the western circuit, and in an action for bribery, brought by the unsuccessful candidate for a Wiltshire borough, I heard Pitt plead at Salisbury. Being very young, I have but little recollection of the manner or character of his opening speech, but I perfectly remember that he totally failed in the cross-examination of a witness: seeming to me to feel himself above the situation, and perhaps anticipating what afterwards proved to be the case: - that instead of pleading as junior barrister, at an inferior court, he should shortly be considered in a superior court, as leading orator, judge, and jury." [3]

Lastly, Reynolds remembers dining with Pitt in the late 1790s (I infer this date as Reynolds mentions it was just previous to the question of Catholic Emancipation) at Miles Peter Andrews' mansion in Green Park:

"Dining with Mr. Pitt at this splendid and hospitable mansion for the first time since our boyish interview at Hayes, our host, Andrews, with a view of entertaining the great statesman [Pitt] made me recapitulate the whole story of the Pompadour Pony. Pitt laughed very heartily, and acknowledged that he had some recollection of this school-boy circumstance." [4] 

Judging by the fact that these memoirs were published in 1826 - twenty years after Pitt's death - it seems these school-boy antics were memorialised a long time afterwards!


1. Reynolds, F. (1826) The Life and Times of Frederick Reynolds, Written by Himself, Vol. 1. London: Henry Colburn, pp. 67-69.

2. Reynolds, F. (1826) The Life and Times of Frederick Reynolds, Written by Himself, Vol. 1. London: Henry Colburn, pp. 113-116.

3. Reynolds, F. (1826) The Life and Times of Frederick Reynolds, Written by Himself, Vol. 2. London: Henry Colburn, pp. 273-274.

4. Reynolds, F. (1826) The Life and Times of Frederick Reynolds, Written by Himself, Vol. 2. London: Henry Colburn, p. 311.

Image Credit:

Fig. 1: Frederick Reynolds, engraved by George T. Doo after John Raphael Smith. Source

A Covent Garden Gilflurt's Guide to Life: Humphry Repton’s Memoirs of Two British Prime Ministers

My guest blog post on the lovely Madame Gilflurt's site explores the Georgian landscape gardener Humphry Repton's Memoirs of Two British Politicians:

A Covent Garden Gilflurt's Guide to Life: Humphry Repton’s Memoirs of Two British Prime Mini...

23 March 2014

Pitt's Translation of Rowe's Lucan

Fig. 1: Nicholas Rowe (1674-1718) by the studio of Sir Godfrey Kneller

In Lord Fitzharris's notebook of 1806, he recalled that "...Pitt was constantly taking down and quoting from Lucan [the Roman poet], of which author he [Pitt] appeared to be extremely fond. Nothing could be more playful, and at the same time more instructive, than Pitt's conversation on a variety of subjects while sitting in the Library at Cirencester [Park, the home of Pitt's friend Lord Bathurst]. You never would have guessed that the man before you was Prime Minister of the country, and one of the greatest that ever filled that situation. His style and manner were quite those of an accomplished idler." [1]

Pitt was fond of translating classical texts in his spare time, and fortunately some examples of this still remain. One such instance is a passage Pitt translated in 1801 from the 'Additional Lines at the Conclusion of the last Book of [Nicholas] Rowe's Lucan:'

"Some looser Muse perhaps, who lightly heads
The devious paths where wanton fancy leads,
In Heav'ns high Coast would feign the Queen of Love
Kneeling in Tears before the Throne of Jove,
Imploring sad th' almighty Father's Grace
For the dear Offspring of her Julian Race:
While to the just recording Roman Eyes,
Far different Sights and different Gods arise;
The Guardian Furies round him rear their Heads,
And Nemesis the Shield of safety spreads;
Justice and Fate the floating Chief convey;
And Rome's glad Genius wafts him on his Way,
Freedom and Laws the Pharian darts withstand,
And save him, - for avenging Brutus' Hand."


1. 3rd Earl of Malmesbury (ed.) (1845) Diaries and Correspondence of James Harris, First Earl of Malmesbury, 2nd edition. London: Richard Bentley, p. 355.

2. Devon Record Office. William Pitt's translation of 'Additional Lines at the Conclusion of the last Book of Rowe's Lucan.' Sidmouth MSS: 152M/C1801/F48.

Image Credit:

Fig 1: Nicholas Rowe (1674-1718), Poet Laureate c. 1700, by the studio of Sir Godfrey Kneller. Source.

19 March 2014

Blind Man's Buff

Fig. I: Eden Park, The Seat of Lord Auckland by Peter La Cave, late 18th c.

In a letter from Edward Hamilton to Lord Stanhope in 1862, Hamilton tells a story passed down from his mother of a time she spent in the company of Mr Pitt:

“My mother, now 80 years of age, is the daughter of Sir Walter Farquhar, Mr Pitt’s honoured physician, and she says that she recollects the following circumstance. She went down with her father [Farquhar] and sister to Lord Auckland, near Beckenham to dine & stay the night. The only other guests were Mr Pitt & Ld Melville [Henry Dundas]. After dinner a variety of games were played, among others “Blind man's Bluff [Buff], and in the latter Mr Pitt took a prominent part. This anecdote has always appeared to me to have special value as showing how genial & joyous Mr Pitt’s nature was, & how entirely misrepresented he was by those who only knew him as he appeared in the H[ouse]. of Commons.” [1]

Fig. 2: Blind Man's Bluff by George Morland, late 18th century

Blind Man's Bluff, or 'Buff' - a small push - was a popular game amongst families and children in the Georgian and Regency periods. Still played today, it involves one player, the 'blind man,' having their eyes covered with a scarf tied around their head. The blind man is then turned around several times in a circular motion so that they lose their sense of direction. The blind man must then hold their hands out in front of them and search for another player by the feel of their face and hands. If they identify the right person, the blindfold is removed, and another player has a turn. If they fail, they have to keep trying to locate the other players. Another version is seated blind man's bluff. In this game, all the players sit on chairs in a circle, and the blind man must identify the right player by sitting on each of their laps! 

Pitt always enjoyed games, and relaxing in friendly company when he could get away with it. I like to imagine him doing this at Eden Park - also known as Eden Farm - where the Auckland family lived. That same Auckland family included, of course, the eldest daughter Eleanor Eden, with whom Pitt was once very attracted. The anecdote related by Edward Hamilton can be dated to about 1796, as Sylvester Douglas (Lord Glenbervie) recalled in his journal of November 20th, 1796 that he had dined at the Hamilton's, with whom Pitt, Dundas, and the Auckland's had been spending time previously [2]. This makes sense chronologically as after late January 1797 - when Pitt broke off his intentions to Eleanor Eden - the visits he made to Eden Park ceased.


1. Kent History & Library Centre. Stanhope of Chevening Manuscripts, Pitt MSS: U1590/C405/2. Edward Hamilton to Lord Stanhope.

2. Bickley, F. (ed.) (1928) The Diaries of Sylvester Douglas (Lord Glenbervie), Vol. 1. London: Constable, p. 98.

Image Credits:

Fig. 1: Eden Park, The Seat of Lord Auckland, by Peter La Cave. late 18th century. Source

Fig. 2: Blind Man's Bluff by George Morland, late 18th century. Source

18 March 2014

Pitt's Translation of Horace

A preparatory sketch of Pitt by John Hoppner (1805), Stowe House, Buckinghamshire

One of the brief notes preserved by Pitt's last private secretary, William Dacres Adams, was a translation in Pitt's handwriting of Horace's L3 of his Second Ode. It seems this was the copy of the translation shared with the 5th Earl Stanhope in 1861 as the covering note is in Stanhope's handwriting:

“How blessed, how glorious they who bravely fall, 
Their Lives devoted, at their Country’s Call!
Death too pursues the Coward as he flies, 
The dart ov’rtakes him, and disgraced he dies.
No mean repulse intrepid Virtue knows. 
Spotless and pure her native Splendor glows;
No gaudy Ensigns Hers, of borrow’d Pow’r, No Fame, dependant on the varying Hour;
Bow’d to no yoke, Her honors are her own, nor court the Breath of Popular Renown. 
On Wing sublime, rises bless Virtue soars;
And oppressing Human Haunts & Earthly Shores, 
To those whom Godlike deeds forbid to die, unbars the Gates of Immortality.” [f. 104]


BL Add Ms 89036/1/19, f. 104.

Mrs. Tomline's Notebook of October and November 1801

The Bishop of Lincoln and his wife kept many of their family papers, notebooks, and personal correspondence. In the case of Elizabeth Tomline, this was done deliberately for the benefit of her children and posterity. In one of her notebooks kept between October 29th and November 10th, 1801, she so much as directly states several times that she wants it to be preserved for the future. By the year 1801, she had been married to William Pitt's former tutor and personal friend George Pretyman, the Bishop of Lincoln, for 17 years. They had several children together, and they were by all accounts a devoted and well-suited couple. 

Mrs Tomline had countless occasions from the 1780s onwards to come into contact with William Pitt in private life, so her testimony has an added credence.

One of the topics she alludes to in this notebook is whether or not Pretyman was ever a private secretary to Mr Pitt. For what it's worth, here's what she has to say. Apologies in advance for the numerous underlinings. I've tried to stay faithful to the original text. 

I need hardly mention that all of these opinions are Mrs Tomline's own:

“…and here I shall observe that he [her husband, George Pretyman] was not actually Private Secretary (which office with the salary annexed to it was given to Mr Bellingham now Sir James [sic] Bellingham, at the request of Lord Chatham [Pitt's older brother]). He [her husband] was never considered as such by Mr Pitt’s family, and never received, or made any pecuniary advantage arising from his situation in any way whatever. This connection originated in the friendships which itself originated in the former connection of Tutor and Pupil. Mr Pitt was scarcely acquainted with the Secretary [Bellingham] he had appointed to oblige his Brother…" [1]

In a future post, I intend to contest this point - and argue that the Bishop of Lincoln did reap some pecuniary rewards via Pitt - with some evidence I've gathered from Pitt's accounts of the 1780s now held at The National Archives [2]. Pitt made several payments to George Pretyman between 1782 and 1784, and the one which stood out the most to me was a transaction on July 20, 1784 from Pitt to Pretyman in the amount of £1,550! [3] More on that later. 

Mrs Tomline goes on to state how she originally became acquainted with William Pitt:

“I became the confidential friend of Mr Pitt’s Sister Lady Harriot (whose idea at first was that “I must be good for something, or Dr. Pretyman would not have married me”) and with Mr Pitt’s knowledge my secrecy & discretion were wholly trusted.” [4]

On the passing of Edward James Eliot, arguably Pitt's closest friend and brother in-law, Mrs Tomline laments: 

“...He [Eliot] died in 1797. In him Mr Pitt sustained a loss irreparable both on public and on private grounds. He [Pitt] felt it deeply. Alas! Its consequences are to be deplored indeed. Who are the persons that have since surrounded Mr Pitt? - Mr Pitt! whose noble disdain of suspicion, and aptitude to trust in the appearance of virtue if combined with pleasant manners, approaches to credulity notwithstanding all he had seen of this bad world. A rare example of purity &  simplicity of heart united with transcendent Talents, and preserved in a situation of all others the most likely to corrupt it! That Mr Pitt is too easily persuaded by persons who seek their own honour & advantage even at the expense of his, is too true. But those who attribute this wholly to the influence of Flattery do not sufficiently understand his character…but I will own it is much more owing to the extreme easiness and kindness of Mr Pitt’s Temper…” [5]

Below are other wonderful anecdotes Mrs Tomline relates on the character and life of Pitt:

“…His own interest indeed, never in any occasion seems to occur to him. The vivacity of Mr Pitt’s disposition naturally led him to be fond of Company from Childhood; and he has ever sought relaxation from “the weighty business of the State” in the freedom of Social Converse with a set of private friends. He is extremely fond of Conversation - of lively, playful Conversation, and excels in it beyond all men. The pleasures of Conversation, and the pleasures of the Country, - not hunting & shooting [actually Pitt was fond of shooting], but improvements in His Grounds, riding & walking…and Reading (for he read almost everything worth reading), while in Office. - At Putney, and far a long time at Holwood, after a very moderate time at dinner, Mr Pitt & each of his friends used to take a Book, or stroll out as they were inclined, till business (to which two or three hours in the Evening was always devoted) or supper summoned them; and they always retired early (about eleven) to bed. - In Downing Street where I certainly saw Mr Pitt during Lady Harriot’s life time, he used generally to come up from dinner in to his Sister’s Apartment for an hour, or 1/2 an hour’s “lounge” with her, to whom he was attached with a degree of affection a character so like his own could alone deserve. I used to tell her ’twas pity she was his Sister, for no other woman in the World was suited to be his wife” [6]. This last sentence is often quoted in biographies of Pitt, seemingly to illustrate how no woman was apparently suited to being married to Pitt.

On Pitt's working habits in his early days of public life, and how this changed as time went on, Mrs Tomline says:

"...At Wimbledon, the Evenings were usually spent in business - honourable to his [Pitt's] private as to his public character - “…But when most of his first set of friends were gradually withdrawn from this direct daily intercourse, by marriage, employments, and not from diminution of regard, new friends were naturally called in to make up their loss within his social circle. - New habits were acquired, and various circumstances unhappily [oe] to foster rather than annul them. Alas my heart bleeds when I think upon this subject.” [7]

By the tone of the above, I gather she didn't have a high opinion of Henry Dundas (Lord Melville), amongst others.

On a sombre note, Mrs Tomline devotes a few pages to Pitt's increasing dependancy on alcohol, particularly from the late 1790s, but probably even before that time:

"The Bishop [of Lincoln] never in his life saw Mr Pitt in the least affected by wine till the year 1798, when they were alone together one Evening at Holwood. Mr Pitt was at this time very unwell [this can be dated to June 1798 as after his duel with Tierney at the end of May,  Pitt was very unwell and spent a great deal of time at Holwood] and in the earnestness of Conversation he [Pitt] filled his Glass so often as to affect his voice and manner, but not his understanding. The Bishop was excessively hurt and proposed his retiring to bed, to which he readily assented. This was the first time, but I cannot add it was the last in which the Bishop has had the poignant grief of observing similar circumstances. Alas! in other Society I fear - but I forbear. - With respect to the quantity of wine which Mr Pitt has drank from early youth, which has I believe astonished many, and given rise to many false aspersions, it was prescribed for him as a medicine by Dr. Addington to drink a bottle of port wine a day when he was a boy of fourteen, and this he did do under his Tutor’s eye in the course of the day, and as a task, rather than with any wish to exceed. Mr Pitt’s constitution was remarkably delicate at an early period of life. At fourteen he weighed only six stone & two p[oun]ds [that's 86 lbs in imperial weight!]. His Father, Lord Chatham, had the Gout while he was at Eton School, and the Constitutions of his Children were all thought to require a very full diet, and a great deal of port wine, and they were accordingly accustomed to this from Childhood….when motives of health originally induced the habit of drinking an unusual quantity, and till within a few years Mr Pitt had no inclination  to exceed the limits of Temperance, nor did he exceed, except perhaps in Company which led him to excess. His moderation was remarked at White’s as a part of his singular character considering his uncommon vivacity…One of my authorities for these aspersions is Mr Eliot, himself a member of White’s and living much with Mr Pitt before he married his Sister as well as afterwards…” [8]

This last passage is particularly distressing as Pitt originally began drinking port every day on doctor's orders, and increasingly came to depend on it as the pressures of business and social convivality demanded it. Eventually, it became habit, and - it must be admitted - alcoholism. One must remember that those were different times. It must have been extremely upsetting for Pitt's friends to see him come to depend on alcohol to function, and to notice the visible signs it began manifesting on his physical health.  

Although some of the passages quoted above have been reproduced elsewhere, as have other disparaging passages Mrs Tomline writes about Pitt's friend Henry Addington later in the notebook which I have not included here, it gives an insight into an outsider's perspective of Pitt's personality, and thus has a semblance of credibility. 


1. The Kent History & Library Centre, Maidstone. Stanhope of Chevening Manuscripts, Pitt MSS: U1590/S5/C41. Notebook kept by Mrs. Tomline, October - November 1801.

2. The National Archives. Chatham Papers: PRO 30/8/219, Part 1. William Pitt's personal accounts between 1782-1788.

3. Ibid.

4. The Kent History & Library Centre, Maidstone. Stanhope of Chevening Manuscripts, Pitt MSS: U1590/S5/C41. Notebook kept by Mrs. Tomline, October - November 1801.

5.  Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

17 March 2014

William Pitt's Book of Common Prayer at Pembroke College

Late last year, I was very fortunate to be allowed to peruse some of William Pitt's artefacts and papers which are held at the archive room of Pembroke College, Cambridge. One of these fascinating little gems is Pitt's personal copy of The Book of Common Prayer

It is difficult to determine whether this was William Pitt's copy from his childhood, or whether he obtained it when he first entered Pembroke College in the autumn of 1773. 

Judging from the text on the inside of the book, it was published at Cambridge in 1766 - when Pitt would have only been 7 years old, and his signature is located at the top left-hand corner of the first inside page.

This signature definitely dates to Pitt's childhood or early teenage years as it changed quite noticeably by the time he reached adulthood. For an example of Pitt's adult handwriting, please see my copy of a brief undated note Pitt wrote to Lord Auckland below: 

The provenance for how Pitt's prayer book came to be at Pembroke College Archives was through a man named Alastair Cameron, who bequeathed it to Pitt's old alma mater on 20 September 1944. That information is written on the front inside cover of the book. It isn't known where the book was kept in the intervening years between the time of Pitt's ownership until the time it reached Mr. Cameron's hands, but it is fortunate that such an artefact is still preserved.

I note that all images of Pitt's copy of The Book of Common Prayer are reproduced here by the kind permission of the Master and Fellows of Pembroke College, Cambridge. 

16 March 2014

Recollections of Mr Pitt at Frognal Hall, Hampstead

Fig. 1: Lord Alvanley (Richard Pepper Arden), unknown artist, after 1788
Reminiscences of a person, even if they are long dead, often help to furnish us with a glimpse into that person's character. This can be particularly the case when a memory is recalled from one's childhood. In 1860, the 5th Earl Stanhope was receiving letters of congratulation regarding the multi-volume biography he was then writing of William Pitt the younger. One of these letters came from Sir Archibald Edmonstone, 3rd Baronet (1795-1871), recalling Pitt's love of children. Sent from Glasgow in Scotland, Edmonstone remembered being in William Pitt's company when Edmonstone was just a child of about six or seven. Although the memory was quite fleeting, the warmth of his memory lasted with him for a lifetime. 

Edmonstone recalled to Lord Stanhope the Mr Pitt he once knew:

“Sir Richard Pepper Arden was on the footing of great intimacy with Mr Pitt, and having married my aunt, as a child I used to spend my summers with them at [Frognal Hall, Arden's estate] Hampstead. There Mr Pitt used to come on Saturdays and Sundays, I should think I am speaking about the year 1802, and there I perfectly remember him: - the more so, as he was very fond of children, and for some cause he took a fancy to me, and I distinctly call to mind climbing on his [Pitt's] back and sitting on his shoulders. His playfulness and elasticity of spirit, even at that time when his health must have then been beginning to fail, is not I think generally known.” [1]

Fig. 2: 'Near Hampstead' watercolour by John Laporte, early 19th c. Frognal Hall is in the foreground

Richard Pepper Arden, Lord Alvanley, lived at Frognal Hall in Hampstead, which was the estate immediately west of Hampstead Parish Church [2]. The church is known as St. John at Hampstead [3]. Like many Georgian homes, Frognal Hall was demolished in the 1920s to make way for new housing developments [4]. It was replaced by what is now numbers 96-98 Frognal, numbers 3-9 Frognal Gardens, and by Frognal Way [5]. The area is still beautiful, socially exclusive, and verdant. Walking through modern-day Frognal, the mind's eye can easily conjure up Pitt romping around outside with Lord Alvanley's family and giving piggy-back rides to the children. Pitt's kindness and playfulness must have made an impression on Edmonstone for him to vividly picture the scenario nearly 60 years later!


1. Kent History & Library Centre, Stanhope of Chevening Manuscripts. Pitt MSS. U1590/C405/2.

2. Howitt, W.  (1869) The Northern Heights of London; Or, Historical Associations of Hampstead. London: Longmans, Green, & Co., pp. 153; 248.

3. www.hampsteadparishchurch.org.uk.

4. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=22635#n146.

5. Ibid.

Image Credits:

Fig 1: Portrait of Lord Alvanley (Richard Pepper Arden), after 1788. Lithograph after an unknown artist.

Fig 2: 'Near Hampstead' by John Laporte (1761-1839). An early 19th century view of Hampstead, with Frognal Hall in the foreground. Source

14 March 2014

Edward Eliot's sexual prowess before marriage: 'Sir Bull'

William Wilberforce by John Rising, c. 1790

At the time of Edward James Eliot's marriage to William Pitt's sister Lady Harriot in 1785, their mutual friend William Wilberforce was touring the Continent and spending time at Spa. Therefore, Wilberforce wasn't aware of the exact date of the wedding. From the correspondence, it appears that Eliot wasn't a great letter-writer so Wilberforce took it upon himself to break the silence, and awkwardly congratulate him on his marriage.

Wilberforce wrote from Spa to Eliot at "New Street, Spring Gardens" on 28th Sept 1785 that:

“As I have not the Gift of Second Sight, nor you the faculty of Letter writing, I don’t know whether I am addressing a simple Knight Bachelor, or that more respectable Character, a married man…” [1] 

Eliot had in fact married several days previously.

Edward James Eliot by Karl Anton Hickel, c. 1793-4

It seems that Eliot, precisely one year to the day older than Wilberforce, had a bit of a reputation for 'sexual prowess' [2] before he married, as Wilberforce alludes to it below:

“…you will have observed that I no longer think myself at Liberty and accord with my usual Greeting of Sir Bull, particularly when I recollect the Epigram on which your old name was founded. This change of style however is the only change you will find in me, for in all else, you will have me just the same.” [3]

To my knowledge, there is no record of the Epigram, but it seems to have been known by Eliot's close friends. Presumably Pitt was aware of it as well. Eliot was, by all accounts, a faithful and affectionate husband to Lady Harriot during the brief but happy year they were married before her death in childbirth. Eliot was afterwards a reformed and religious man, but it's delightful to read Wilberforce's letter joking around with his friend about his sexual past!


1. The Kent History & Library Centre. Stanhope of Chevening manuscripts. Pitt MSS: U1590/S5/O4/11.

2. Pollock, J. (1977) Wilberforce. Lion Publishing, Herts., England, pp. 16-17.

3. Ibid.