21 December 2015

A (belated) 1774 Merry-Christmas message from William Pitt

William Pitt was not known for writing letters on time. Although not a regular correspondent, his letters are delightful, amusing, and self-deprecating. His belated 1774 Christmas message to his former tutor Edward Wilson is no exception. 

William's older sister Lady Hester had married Lord Mahon earlier in December 1774, and she now resided at Chevening Estate in Kent. Meanwhile, William and his parents spent the holidays at Hayes Place, near Bromley. He was just 15 years old at the time:

"Hayes, December 27th, 1774

My Dear Sir,

My Brother Sportsman [William's younger brother James] is this Morning sallied into the field, full of high Expectations. The remains of a trifling Cold, and partly inclination have prevented Me from being of the Party. Tho I have not the Cry of the Hounds to rouse me from my Bed, I am up with a design of writing to you before Breakfast, as Engagements woud interrupt me after, at the early Hour of Nine [am], so early indeed, that, at some distance from the Window, I am scarcely able to see. In the Dark, however, I trust I am able, to scribble the warmest Wishes for a Merry-Christmas, tho the Offering I confess is somewhat late, to yourself and the whole fire-side of the Parsonage [at Binfield, Berkshire, where Wilson was now Rector]. Without any Chronological Error, I may yet enlarge on the latter part of the Compliments of the Season. May the New-Year often return with encreasing happiness, to you and yours, till at length it seats the Rector of Binfield, in the Golden Canonry of Windsor, or wherever else his future wishes may lead him.
Our Christmas Circle seem'd on a very reduc'd scale [Lady Hester had just married, and Lord Pitt - William's older brother John - was at Quebec], in comparison of what We remember, nor have We had so much as a letter from Quebec [from Lord Pitt] to enliven It. Captain Hood and Mrs. Hood came to us yesterday and are Here now. They will probably leave us this Morning when We expect The Bride and Bride-Groom [William's sister and her new husband] from Chevening which will be a valuable Addition to our Society...A letter has been received from The House giving an account of the Celebration last Monday Sennight at Burton [Pynsent] and Curry [Rivel, the nearby village]. As much of It, as the best Decypherers made out, relates Hogsheads of Cyder, Bonfires, &c &c, but unfortunately, as the greatest part of It, defeats all Their Art, We yet remain ignorant of the Particulars of this Festivity. My Tender Conscience suggests to me that this Letter of my own may be subject to the same difficulties, but as I am summon'd to Breakfast, I have no other atonement in my Power, but writing my name legible, in which if I succeed, I trust you will believe me to be sincerely Your ever affectionate W. Pitt.
Distribute my kindest Compliments and every good Wish that suits the season, to all Quarters of the Parsonage."


William Pitt to Rev. Edward Wilson, Rector of Binfield. December 27, 1774. Pitt Papers, Duke University, North Carolina.