|Fig. 1: Thomas Coutts by William Beechey|
In early February 1801, William Pitt resigned the office of First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer after holding the highest political offices for over 17 years. His financial affairs were always precarious, but they came to an immediate state of crisis upon his retirement. Thomas Coutts (1735-1822), his family banker for many years, wrote him an urgent letter giving his advice for Pitt's future career prospects. On Sunday morning, 22 February 1801, Coutts wrote:
“The Subject of this Letter has struck my mind very forcibly and I feel an impulse to communicate it to you that I cannot easily resist. Perhaps I may be thought officious & impertinent but as I am conscious of nothing of the kind in my Heart, I hope I may be forgiven.
Your Friends I know generally lament your not having paid a due attention to your Private affairs since you have been Minister of this Country and they fear the Consequences of it may now prove unpleasant and inconvenient. This is among the reasons - ‘tho’ by no means the most Powerful to Convince me of the Eligibiliy of My Plan - which shall be given in a few words.
The Law offers to You at this moment both Fame & Fortune. You may - and you certainly will in a few Years be Lord Chancellor if you should wish it. A Silk Gown you may wear immediately and The Northern Circuit by the Law’s Elevation presents you at once with at least 3000£ a year. Every Line is open for you and there cannot be a doubt of your rising instantaneously to the very Summit of The Profession and there is not a moment to lose.
Who is there with a Brief that would not fly to put it into such Hands.
So far from lessening - such a determination - would elevate your Character beyond every point you have yet attain’d and make you sought for to be again the Minister with more éclat than ever, in case You should wish it on any future occasion. Believe me Sir, every word I write is dictated by respect, & The antient [sic] regard & Esteem with which I am, Your most Faithful Humble Servant, Thomas Coutts.”
Basically, Coutts thought Pitt should go back to the law - the career Pitt had originally pursued as a very young man - as a means of relieving himself from financial insolvency. However Pitt viewed Coutts's exhortation, he never returned to practicing the law. He did, however, become Minister for a second term which lasted the final eighteen months of his life.
Thomas Coutts to William Pitt. 22 February 1801. British Library Add Ms 89036/1/8, f. 18.
Figure 1: Thomas Coutts (1735-1822) by William Beechey. Source