8 May 2014

The fate of Pitt's papers: The 2nd Lord Chatham's wishes

On June 21st, 1834, Lord Camden wrote down the minutes of a conversation he had with Mr. William Edward Tomline - George Pretyman-Tomline's son - regarding John Pitt, the 2nd Lord Chatham's wishes concerning the fate of his father and brother's papers. Lord Chatham was at the end of his life, and he was clearly thinking of future times. The second Lord Chatham and George Pretyman-Tomline (Bishop of Lincoln) were Pitt's two executors. This is what Lord Camden wrote regarding the conversation he had with the son of Pitt's deceased executor, the Bishop of Lincoln (later Bishop of Winchester):

"I stated to Mr. Tomline [who was one of Pitt's godsons], that I had been selected by Lord Chatham to make the following Communication to him. That Lord Chatham had, after full Consideration, conceived that the best deposition He could make of any Letters & Papers, which He might possess of his Fathers or of his Brothers, was to have them deposited in the British Museum in Boxes, to be opened at a Period to be specified. That Lord Chatham was aware that Mr. Tomline possessed several Papers & Letters of the late Lord Chathams & a very large Collection of Mr. Pitt's Papers & Correspondence. That Lord Chatham thought that [some scratched out words here] the Papers & Correspondence of both these illustrious Characters would be most properly & most appropriately deposited in the British Museum, & conceived such Deposit would form a valuable Collection (& under the intended Limitation of the Boxes containing them not being opened, till a certain Period) would ensure their being kept sacred from the public Eye & Comment for a number of years, which He conceived to be very desirable but that such Papers & Correspondence as He could send, would not be complete without the addition of Mr. Tomline's Collection. 

I impressed on Mr. Tomline that I should not have accepted this Commission, unless Lord Chatham had anxiously wished it & unless I conceived myself as fulfilling a Duty of a somewhat solemn Character - being imposed upon me, as it was, by the Son & Brother of the illustrious Characters alluded to & under peculiar Circumstances. I also enquired how these Papers came into Mr. Tomline's Possession & if they were left by Will to the late Bishop of Winchester [Tomline's father - one of Pitt's executors]. Mr. Tomline informed me they were not left by Will. Mr. Tomline, after some Pause, stated that the Communication came rather suddenly upon him. That He highly valued the Possession of these Papers & agreed in the Opinion that they should not be published for many Years, that He wishes not to be called upon to give a decided Answer at present, That his Papers were in the Country & that He would take an early opportunity of looking over them. That He certainly did possess some Letters of the late Lord Chatham, that He thought those Papers were of a different Character from Mr. Pitt's & appeared not indisposed to give them up but He could say nothing till He had looked over them & when He had looked over them & Mr. Pitt's Papers He would give me an Answer. C[amden]"

From this conversation, I gather that Mr. Tomline wasn't as willing to relinquish Pitt's papers as he pretended to be. The 2nd Earl of Chatham - John Pitt, who was Pitt the Elder's son and Pitt the younger's brother - had good intentions for the papers. His request for the papers of his father and brother to be deposited at the British Museum seems very reasonable. He was merely asking for Mr. Tomline to send them, along with his own, to the British Museum to be looked over at a certain, unspecified distance in the future. Most likely, that point would have been once every living contemporary was no longer around. 

By 1834, it had been 56 years since the death of the 1st Lord Chatham, and 28 years since the passing of Mr. Pitt. The 2nd Lord Chatham was then nearly 78 years old, and in failing health. From this note in Camden's handwriting, it appears Mr. Tomline was being evasive and unreasonable.


Henry Halford MSS, Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland Record Office. 'Minute of a Conversation with Mr. Tomline - June 21st 1834.' D924/1000.

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