Time was when slaves were exported like cattle from the British Coast and exposed for sale in the Roman market. These men and women who were thus sold were supposed to be guilty of witchcraft, debt, blasphemy or theft. Or else they were prisoners taken in war–they had forfeited their right to freedom, and we sold them. We said they were incapable of self-government and so must be looked after. Later we quit selling British slaves, but began to buy and trade in African humanity. We silenced conscience by saying, “It’s all right–they are incapable of self-government.” We were once as obscure, as debased, as ignorant, as barbaric, as the African is now. I trust that the time will come when we are willing to give to Africa the opportunity, the hope, the right to attain to the same blessings that we ourselves enjoy.
—William Pitt, on “Abolition of Slavery in England”
The Law of Heredity has been described as that law of our nature which provides that a man shall resemble his grandmother–or not, as the case may be.
What traits are inherited and what acquired–who shall say? Married folks who resort to the happy expedient of procuring their children at orphan-asylums can testify to the many times they have been complimented on the striking resemblance of father to daughter, or son to mother.
Possibly that is all there is of it–we resemble those with whom we associate. Far be it from me to say the final word on this theme–I would not, if I could, deprive men of a problem they can never solve. When all questions are answered, it will be time to telephone the undertaker.
That men of genius do not reproduce themselves after the flesh is an axiom; but that William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, did, is brought forth as an exception, incident, accident or circumstance, just according to one’s mood at the moment.
“Great men do have great sons!” we cry. “Just look at the Pitts, the Adamses, the Walpoles, the Beechers, the Booths, the Bellinis, the Disraelis!” and here we begin to falter. And then the opposition takes it up and rattles off a list of great men whose sons were spendthrifts, gamblers, ne’er-do-wells and jackanapes.
When Pitt the Younger made his first speech in the House of Commons, he struck thirteen. The members of the House were amazed.
“He’s a chip off the old block,” they said.
“He’s the block itself,” said Burke.
Lord Rosebery, who had the felicity to own a Derby winner, once said of Pitt, “He was bred for speed, but not for endurance.”
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Since the subject of heredity always seems to come up when the Pitts are mentioned, it may be proper for us to go back and trace pedigree a bit, to see if we have here the formula for producing a genius.
The grandfather of William Pitt the Elder was Thomas Pitt, a sea-captain, trader and gentleman adventurer. In fact, he was a bold buccaneer, but not too bold, for he gave large sums to church and charity, and showed his zeal for virtue by once hanging three smugglers in chains, high up on a gibbet overlooking the coast of Cornwall, and there the bodies were left until the birds of prey and the elements had bleached their bones.
Thomas Pitt was known as “Diamond Tom” through bringing from India and selling to the Regent Orleans the largest diamond, I believe, ever owned in England. For this diamond, Tom received one hundred thirty-five thousand pounds–a sum equal to one million dollars. That Diamond Tom received this money there is no doubt, but where and how he got the diamond nobody seems to know, and in his own time it was deemed indelicate to inquire.