Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
 
Character of Pitt
By Horace Walpole (1717–1797)
 
From Memoirs of the Reign of King George II.

PITT had roused us from this ignoble lethargy: he had asserted that our resources were still prodigious—he found them so in the intrepidity of our troops and navies—but he went further, and perhaps too far. He staked our revenues with as little management as he played with the lives of the subjects; and as if we could never have another war to wage, or as if he meant, which was impracticable, that his administration should decide which alone should exist as a nation, Britain or France, he lavished the last treasures of this country with a prodigality beyond example and beyond excuse; yet even that profusion was not so blameable as his negligence. Ignorant of the whole circle of finance, and consequently averse from corresponding with financiers, a plain set of men who are never to be paid with words instead of figures, he kept aloof from all details, drew magnificent plans and left others to find the magnificent means. Disdaining, too, to descend into the operations of an office which he did not fill, he affected to throw on the treasury the execution of measures which he dictated, but for which he thus held himself not responsible. The conduct was artful, new, and grand; and to him proved most advantageous. Secluded from all eyes, his orders were received as oracles; and their success, of consequence, was imputed to his inspiration. Misfortunes and miscarriages fell to the account of the more human agents; corruption and waste were charged on the subordinate priests. They indeed were charmed with this dispensation.
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  As Mr. Pitt neither granted suits nor received them, Newcastle revelled in a boundless power of appointing agents, commissaries, victuallers, and the whole train of leeches, and even paid his court to Pitt by heaping extravagance on extravagance; for the more money was thrown away, the greater idea Pitt conceived of his system’s grandeur. But none flattered this ostentatious prodigality like the Germans. From the King of Prussia and Prince Ferdinand to the lowest victualler in the camp, all made advantage of English easiness and dissipation. As the minister was proud of such pensioners they were not coy in begging his alms. Fox, too, was not wanting to himself during this harvest, to which his office of paymaster opened so commodious an inlet. Depressed, annihilated as a statesman, he sat silent, indemnifying himself by every opportunity of gain which his rival’s want of economy threw in his way. The larger and more numerous are subsidies, the more troops are in commission, the more are on service abroad, the ampler means has the paymaster of enriching himself. An unfortunate campaign, or an unpopular peace might shake the minister’s establishment; but till this vision of expensive glory should be dissipated, Fox was determined to take no part. But thence, from that inattention on one hand, and rapacity on the other, started up those prodigious private fortunes which we have seen suddenly come forth—and thence we remained with a debt of an hundred and forty millions!  2
  The admirers of Mr. Pitt extol the reverberation he gave to our councils, the despondence he banished, the spirit he infused, the conquests he made, the security he affixed to our trade and plantations, the humiliation of France, the glory of Britain, carried under his administration to a pitch at which it never had arrived—and all this is exactly true. When they add, that all this could not be purchased too dearly, and that there was no option between this conduct and tame submission to the yoke of France—even this is just in a degree; but a material objection still remains, not depreciating a grain from this bill of merits, which must be gratefully acknowledged by whoever calls himself an Englishman—yet very derogatory from Mr. Pitt’s character, as virtually trusted with the revenues, the property of his country. A few plain words will explain my meaning, and comprehend the force of the question. All this was done—but might have been done for many millions less—the next war will state this objection more fully.  3
  Posterity, this is an impartial picture. I am neither dazzled by the blaze of the times in which I have lived, nor if there are spots in the sun, do I deny that I have seen them. It is a man I am describing, and one whose greatness will bear to have his blemishes fairly delivered to you—not from a love of censure in me, but of truth; and because it is history I am writing, not romance. I pursue my subject.  4
 
 
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