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S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.

Lord Chatham

  • [William Pitt, first Earl of Chatham; called, until raised to the peerage, “The Great Commoner;” born in Cornwall, Nov. 15, 1708; member for Old Sarum, 1735; paymaster of the forces, 1746; prime minister for five months, 1755; formed a coalition with Newcastle, becoming secretary of state, and directing war and foreign affairs; resigned on the accession of George III.; privy seal, 1766, and accepted a peerage; resigned, 1768; opposed the American war; died May 11, 1778.]
  • Methinks Felix trembles! He shall hear from me some other day.

  • Asking, in the House of Lords, who were the evil advisers of his Majesty; and fixing his eyes on Mansfield, who seemed to quail before his glance. Campbell, in the “Life of Mansfield,” quotes it “Festus;” which led the Hon. Edward Everett to write him, that Lord North would not have quailed, but would have said, “Judge Felix, if you please, Lord Chatham.”
  • Moreton, Chief Justice of Chester, once used the expression in the House of Commons: “King, Lords, and Commons; or,” looking at Pitt, “as the right honorable member would call them, Commons, Lords, and King.” Pitt having asked that the words be taken down, Moreton explained that he meant nothing; whereupon Pitt gave him this advice: “Whenever that member means nothing, I advise him to say nothing.”
  • The Duke of Newcastle gave the management of the House of Commons in 1754 to Sir Thomas Robinson, a dull man; which made Pitt exclaim, “Sir Thomas Robinson to lead us! The duke might as well send his jack-boot to lead us!” When Pitt formed the coalition with Newcastle in 1757, the patronage which the latter dispensed through the members of the House made him seem so much like a proprietor of votes, that his colleague said, “The Duke of Newcastle lent me his majority to carry on the government.” In fact, the duke looked upon the objects of his patronage very much as upon his tenants; whom he evicted when they did not support his candidates, saying, “May I not do what I like with my own?”
  • During the Seven Years’ War, Pitt brought about an alliance between England and Prussia, by which France was overpowered. The scene of action being, therefore, transferred from America to Europe, Pitt remarked at the close of the struggle, “I conquered America in Germany.” It was during this war, immediately after the capture of Quebec, that Pitt declared, “I will own I have a zeal to serve my country beyond what the weakness of my frail body admits of;” and Lord Chesterfield said of the large forces and sums of money voted for the defence of America against the French, “It is Pitt’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.”
  • Gentle Shepherd, tell me where.

  • The line of a song which Pitt repeated, when Grenville, in a debate on the financial statement of 1762, asked where they would have a tax laid: “Let them tell me where. I say, sir, let them tell me where. I repeat it, sir: I am entitled to say to them, tell me where.” “It was long,” says Macaulay, “before Grenville lost the nickname of ‘Gentle Shepherd,’ which Pitt fixed upon him.”—Essay on Chatham.
  • Chatham first made the suggestion of “a power behind the throne,” in a speech, March 2, 1770: “A long train of circumstances has at length unwillingly convinced me that there is something behind the throne greater than the king himself.”
  • The case of John Wilkes, in 1770, brought out one or two famous observations from Chatham: “Unlimited power,” he said, “corrupts the possessor; and this I know, that, where law ends, there tyranny begins.” In a debate upon Lord Marchmont’s motion, made at midnight, May 1, 1770, that any interference of the lords, respecting the Middlesex election, would be unconstitutional, Lord Chatham exclaimed, “If the constitution must be wounded, let it not receive its mortal stab at this dark and midnight hour.” He had already said, when a member of the Lower House, “I will not go to court if I may not bring the constitution with me.”
  • In a letter to the Earl of Shelburne, Sept. 29, 1770, he spoke of “reparation for our rights at home, and security against the like future violations.”
  • Confidence is a plant of slow growth.

  • When asked for confidence in the ministry in 1766, he said their characters were fair enough, and such persons he was always glad to see in the public service; but, giving a smile which was hardly respectful, “Confide in you? Oh, no! you must pardon me, gentlemen. Youth is the season of credulity: confidence is a plant of slow growth in an aged bosom!” “True friendship,” says Washington, “is a plant of slow growth.”—Social Maxims. “I see before me,” said Disraeli, in a speech at the Mansion House, Nov. 9, 1867, “the statue of a celebrated minister, who said that confidence was a plant of slow growth. But I believe, however gradual may be the growth of confidence, that of credit requires still more time to arrive at maturity.”
  • Much of Chatham’s finest oratory was employed against the treatment of the American colonies by the ministry; but, as Brougham says, our idea of it rests upon a few scattered fragments. In opposing the Stamp Act, he said, “America, if she fall, will fall like the strong man: she will embrace the pillars of the state, and pull down the constitution along with her.”
  • In allusion to a quotation of precedents, he protested: “I come not here armed at all points with law-cases and Acts of Parliament, with the statute-books doubled down in dog’s-ears, to defend the cause of liberty.”
  • In 1777 he made the ringing declaration, while speaking of the employment of German mercenaries: “If I were an American, as I am an Englishman, while a foreign troop was landed in my country, I never would lay down my arms,—never! never! never!”
  • Equally famous is the figure he employed when opposing the use of Indians in the war, 1777: “I invoke the genius of the Constitution. From the tapestry that adorns these walls the immortal ancestor of this noble lord frowns with indignation at the disgrace of his country.”
  • In the same year he contemptuously answered the ministerial boast of driving the Americans before the British army: “I might as well think of driving them before me with this crutch!”
  • Of the impulse to speak, which overcame his self-command, he once said to Lord Shelburne, “I must sit down; for when I am up, every thing that is in my mind comes out.”
  • Other sayings of Chatham’s are: “Politeness is benevolence in trifles.” “‘Butler’s Analogy’ raises more doubts than it solves.”
  • Burke, in a speech on the Repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts, March 2, 1790, quoted a remark of Chatham’s: “We have a Calvinistic creed, a Popish liturgy, and an Arminian clergy.”
  • The atrocious crime of being a young man.

  • Horace Walpole, in reply to a speech of Pitt in the House of Commons, March 10, 1740, against a bill for the encouragement of seamen, and the speedier manning of the royal navy, spoke of Pitt’s formidable sounds and furious declamation, and insinuated that the young orator had contracted his habits of speaking from persons of his own age, and charged him with using “theatrical expressions.” Almon (“Anecdotes and Speeches of the Earl of Chatham,” published in London in 1797) gives the well-known reply of Pitt, beginning, “Sir, the atrocious crime of being a young man, which the honorable gentleman has with such spirit and decency charged upon me, I shall neither attempt to palliate nor deny, but content myself with wishing that I may be one of those whose follies may cease with their youth, and not of that number who are ignorant in spite of experience.” This reply is not published in later biographies of Chatham, “because,” says Brougham (“Statesmen of the Time of George III.,” i. 19), “many of his earlier speeches as now preserved were avowedly the composition of Dr. Johnson, whose measured style, formal periods, balanced antitheses, and total want of pure, racy English, betray their author at every line.” Thus two speeches of Lord Chesterfield’s were published in his miscellaneous works, that were written by Johnson; “And the best of it,” said the Doctor, “they have found out that one is like Demosthenes, and the other like Cicero.” And when Pitt’s display of statesmanlike power, shown in a speech in Parliament, was once alluded to, “That speech of Pitt’s,” said Johnson, “I wrote in a garret.”—PALGRAVE: The House of Commons, 16. At that time, before reporting was officially provided for, reporters hid themselves in obscure corners of the strangers’ gallery, and jotted down, beneath their hats, fragments of the speeches; they picked up scraps from friendly hearers; they eked out these scraps with gossip in the lobby. They then retired to a coffee-house, and, to clothe them in suitable language, the help of some poor scholar, a Samuel Johnson, was sought.—Do., 79.
  • Pitt, on one occasion, began a speech with the words, “Sugar, Mr. Speaker—” and then noticing a smile upon the faces of the audience, he paused, and, looking fiercely around, pronounced the word “sugar” three times, in a loud voice. Having thus gained the serious attention of the House, he turned round, and disdainfully asked, “Who will laugh at sugar now?”
  • In the debate on the speech from the throne, 1755, Pitt made the celebrated comparison of the coalition of Fox (first Lord Holland) and the Duke of Newcastle, to the union of the Rhone and the Saone: “It strikes me now,” he exclaimed, as if smitten with a sudden inspiration, “I remember that at Lyons I was taken to see the conflux of the Rhone and the Saone, the one a gentle, feeble, languid stream, and though languid of no depth [Newcastle], and the other a boisterous and impetuous torrent [Fox]. But, different as they are, they meet at last. And long [here his tone sank into the most cutting irony], long may they continue united, to the comfort of each other, and to the glory, honor, and serenity of the nation.” It was during this debate that William Gerard Hamilton won his nickname of “Single-speech Hamilton,” by a speech of great power, no maiden speech in that House having made an equal sensation, after which he remained silent.
  • The press is a chartered libertine.

  • About 1757, a torrent of papers and pamphlets issued against Pitt, says one of his biographers, condemning his plans, his measures, his principles, his politics, and even reviling his person, in which the King himself was not spared for having taken him into his service, and for not dismissing him, all of which were permitted to die unnoticed. One day, when Mr. Grenville mentioned some of them to him, Pitt smiled, and only said, “The press is like the air, a chartered libertine.” The allusion is to a line in “Henry V.,” i. 1,—
  • “… that, when he speaks,
  • The air, a chartered libertine, is still.”
  • Lord John Russell, in a defence of Lord Raglan, Feb. 8, 1855, during the Crimean War, spoke of “a ribald press,” for which he was called to account the next day by the “Times.”
  • The allusion to the tapestry of the House of Lords (vide), in Chatham’s speech on a motion for an address to the throne, Nov. 18, 1777, was suggested by the fact that it represented the English fleet led against the Spanish Armada by Lord Howard of Effingham, an ancestor of the Earl of Suffolk, who defended the employment of Indians against the American revolutionists. The title of “the Great Commoner,” given to Pitt before his peerage, had been previously applied by him to Sir John Barnard, a great London merchant, and one of the members for the city. He died in 1749, and Pitt inherited the title. Thus Walpole wrote, June 9, 1766: “‘The Great Commoner’ is exceedingly out of humor.”
  • I am already married to my country.

  • This answer is said to have been made by the younger Pitt when Horace Walpole tried to arrange a marriage between him and Necker’s daughter, afterwards Madame de Staël, and her father had offered to endow her with £14,000 a year. Lord Brougham (“Life of Pitt”) says that the story rests on a true foundation, but unless the answer was in jest, it was too theatrical for so great a man (v. “Quart. Rev.,” No. 97, p. 568, and J. W. CROKER: Memoirs, II. 340).
  • Mention of Madame de Staël may excuse the insertion here of her saying at table in England, that the Continent had formed a high opinion of the riches, strength, and spirit of that country, adding, “Strangers are contemporary posterity” (Les étrangers sont la postérité contemporaine). “This striking expression,” says Croker, who records it (I. 326), “is found in the journal of Camille Desmoulins.”
  • Some one was laughing at the titles of the Haytian nobility, le Comte di Limonade and le Duc de Marmalade. “This would come,” said Madame de Staël, “with bad grace from Frenchmen who see nothing ridiculous in the titles of M. de Bouillé and le Duc de Bouillon.” Capt. Gronow, in his “Recollections,” says that during the reign of Charles X. a person of distinguished mien endeavored to pass the sentry at the gate of the garden of the Tuileries, entrance to which was forbidden. On being refused admission the intruder said, “I am the Prince de Poix, aide-de-camp to the King.”—“Eh, sacré,” replied the soldier, “you could not enter if you were the Roi des haricots.”