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

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