22 December 2014

Reilly's biography of Pitt: Another perspective

In Robin Reilly’s (1978) biography of Pitt, he mentions that Pitt’s private life was ‘unblemished’ and ‘immaculate’ [1]. These are common descriptions used in reference to Pitt’s allegedly unsullied personal life. Unfortunately, Pitt himself was much more complex than these terms suggest. This construction of Pitt’s character as 'pure' and 'innocent' formed a fundamental part of the apotheosis of Pitt created by his political followers in the 19th century.

Despite his flaws, however, Pitt is a fascinating historical figure whose fleeting personal hours deserve a closer examination. Reilly asserts that ‘the wealth of relevant material for a political biography [of Pitt] is so great,’ that it masks ‘the lack of material for a study of his private life’ [2]. As time goes on, and more information is uncovered, I argue that there is more than enough material for a study of Pitt's private life if one has the time, inkling, and dedication to putting in the hours to uncover this information. Yet Reilly makes a very valid point when he states that one of Pitt’s executors, George Pretyman-Tomline, ‘indulged in an orgy of devastation which ensured that nothing of the slightest personal significance that came into his possession remained to posterity;’ this was especially so in the case of Pitt’s private papers [3]. In the nearly 40 years that have passed since the publication of Reilly’s biography, more manuscript material has become available to researchers via the British Library and numerous other record offices throughout the UK. There is also ample material still in private collections, museums, universities, and art galleries around the world. In the introduction of Reilly’s biography of Pitt, he readily admits that ‘this is not a work of deep original research' [4]. Most of the information he consulted was already printed and in the public domain. Instead, Reilly’s focus was on what he considered to be the three important influences in Pitt’s life: ‘his health, his alcoholism, and his sexuality,’ in order to develop a ‘better understanding of the man’ himself [5]. I admire Reilly's focus, and I intend to extend that, and in some instances, to disagree with his conclusions, in my work on Pitt. Similar to Lord Ashbourne's biography, my purpose is not to write a chronological narrative, but rather to explore the 'chapters' [6] - or important aspects - of Pitt's private life. 


References:

1. Reilly, R. (1978) Pitt the Younger. London: Cassell, p.1.

2. Ibid.

3. Reilly, R. (1978) Pitt the Younger. London: Cassell, p. 2.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Lord Ashbourne (1898) Pitt: Some Chapters of His Life and Times. London: Longmans, Green, and Co., Preface.

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