‘… in the dunghill of despotism among the other yet unhatched eggs of the old serpent.'
The Spectator, the right wing British rag, has a great book review section (and hey, I got another book review to do for the New Yorker – so give LI a break. We do know from our book reviewing). It is definitely worth registering with those guys, because it is one of the treats of the Net.
The Spectator has a nice review of William Hague’s new bio of William Pitt the Younger. Hague, you’ll remember, used to be a Tory up and comer. Didn’t he run against Tony Blair back in the stone age? He still sits on the opposition bench. Apparently, the boredom of sitting out in 32° F draft year after year took its toll. An American politician would try to get a part in a cop drama. The British always turn to writing long bios. Michael Foot did H.G. Wells. Hague has done Pitt the Younger.
Pitt a revolting character, a sneaking, pallid man with all the charm of a snake farm operator. He enacted Burke’s mad reactionary fantasy of opposing the French Revolution and putting half the aristocracy of Europe on the dole, thus striking a precedent for today’s corporate welfare. And of course Pitt was a great squasher of the romantic poets. We grudgingly admit, however, that he had a certain financial touch.
“William Pitt the Younger always was the politician’s politician: an MP at 21, prime minister at 24 and dead at 46, with only two years out of office in between. Pitt dominated British politics for his entire adult life. He lived for the House of Commons and for the daily grind of government service. He was the greatest political orator of his day. Yet he had few recreations, and virtually no experience of the world. His friendships were distant. He wrote no intimate letters. He read little. He knew nothing of music or painting. He never loved any one. His was a life at once unfulfilled in private and triumphantly successful in public. One has heard of such people at Westminster today. But, on the whole, the 18th century could do better than that.”
We were reminded of another fortunate son in this graf:
“Hague’s main weakness is the same as Pitt’s. He is not really at home with the complex diplomatic and military manoeuvres among the states of Europe during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. Yet these were the dominant events of Pitt’s later career, and proved to be the tragedy of his public life. Pitt’s skills were in the arts of peace. He was an outstanding administrator. He brought to the government’s finances a combination of imagination and intellectual rigour which had never previously been applied to them at that level, and would never be applied to them again until the time of Peel. But he was obliged to deploy the resources which he had so carefully husbanded in a long and destructive war.”
Indeed. Piqued by the review, we looked around for other recent articles about Pitt the Younger. We found an article in History Today, Sept. 1998, by Stuart Anderson about the Anti-Jacobin hysteria of 1798.
“The inaugural issue of the Anti-Jacobin Review and Magazine for July 1798 carried an engraving of a famous Gillray cartoon. It depicts the `High Priest of the THEOPHILANTHROPES, with the Homage of Leviathan and his suite'. Leviathan has the face of the Duke of Bedford, on whose back ride Charles James Fox, John Thelwall and other figures waving revolutionary caps. Some appended verses help to identify other participants: the `wandering bards' Samuel Coleridge and Robert Southey, Charles Lloyd (their protege) and Charles Lamb; the Unitarian chemist Joseph Priestley and those exponents of the `New Morality', Thomas Paine, William Godwin, Gilbert Wakefield and Thomas Holcroft. Mary Wollstonecraft's Wrongs of Woman is among a pile of pamphlets spilling from a `Cornucopia of Ignorance', while representatives of the radical press cluster round Louis Marie de La Revelliere-Lepaux, the `holy hunchback' of the French Directory. A sack stuffed with ecclesiastical mitres and communion plate, labelled `Philanthropic Requisitions', implies the imminent confiscation of church property in order to relieve the poor.”
Canning, Pitt’s friend, wrote for this rag. It is nice to think that the crew Gillray pilloried have long outlived their detractors, and that Canning is more famous for being satirized by Shelly than he is for his Tory slanders. Not that the Anti-Jacobin was totally devoid of talent – Cobbett wrote for them.
Pitt, goaded by the tragic promptings of Burke, subvented reaction in England during the French Rev. The rhetoric of reaction has a distinctly contemporary feel.
“The year 1797 had not only witnessed the Nore and Spithead mutinies in the Royal Navy's own fleets, but also saw French armies triumph all over Europe--except in Wales. The French landing at Fishguard in February had been a fiasco, with their surrender two days later, but, as publication of Admiral Hoche's orders in the Anti-Jacobin show, only a contrary wind had diverted them from attacking Bristol. The editor's stated aim at this critical time was `to invigorate the Exertions of our Countrymen against every Foe, Foreign and Domestic'. Among the domestic foes, it seems, were the Romantic poets. The first two issues of the weekly focused on `Jacobin poetry'--poems of social protest such as Robert Southey's `The Widow'--where the poets were accused of demanding an increase in misery in order to make political protest more effective.”
Shades of Hitchens! – the accusation in the last sentence has gone directly into the Bush-ite playbook. No wonder Gingrich has expressed an odd affection for Pitt the Younger.
LI hopes that England was a little more groovy for our blogging pal Paul Craddick, who has just returned from the archaically sceptered isle.