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William Pitt
by [?]

William was but twenty-seven years of age when he began his official career, but he seemed one who had leaped into life full-armed. He absorbed knowledge on every hand. Demosthenes was his idol, and he, too, declaimed by the seashore with his mouth full of pebbles. His splendid command of language was acquired by the practise of translation and retranslation. Whether Greek or Latin ever helped any man to become a better thinker is a mooted question, but the practise of talking off in your own tongue a page of a foreign language is a mighty good way to lubricate your English.

William Pitt had all the graces of a great orator–he was deliberate, self-possessed, positive. In form he was rather small, but he had a way of carrying himself that gave an impression of size. He was one of the world’s big little men–the type of Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Harrison and John D. Long. In the House of Commons he lost no time in making his presence felt. He was assertive, theatrical, declamatory–still, he usually knew what he was talking about. His criticisms of the Government so exasperated Sir Robert Walpole that Walpole used to refer to him as “that terrible cornet of horse.” Finally, Walpole had him dismissed from the Army. This, instead of silencing the young man, really made matters worse, and George the Second, who patronized the Opposition when he could not down it, made him groom of the bedchamber to the Prince of Wales. This was an office lined with adipose, with no work to speak of.

The feeling is that Pitt revealed his common clay by accepting the favor. He was large enough to get along without such things.

In most of the good old “School Speakers” was an extract from a speech supposed to have been delivered by Pitt on the occasion of his being taunted by Horace Walpole on account of his youth. Pitt replied in language something like this: “It is true that I am young, yet I’ll get over that; but the man who is a fool will probably remain one all his days.”

The speech was reported by a lout of a countryman, Samuel Johnson by name, who had come up to London to make his fortune, and found his first work in reporting speeches in the House of Commons. Pitt did not write out his speeches for the press, weeks in advance, according to latter-day methods; the man who reported them had to have a style of his own–and certainly Johnson had. Pitt was much pleased with Johnson’s reports of his speeches, but on one occasion mildly said, “Ah, Mr. Johnson–you know–I do not exactly remember using that expression!”

And Samuel Johnson said, “Sir, it is barely possible that you did not use the language as I have written it out; but you should.” Just how much Johnson we get in Pitt’s printed speeches, is still a topic for debate.

Pitt could think on his feet, while Samuel Johnson never made but one speech and broke down in that. But Johnson could write, and the best of Pitt’s speeches are those reported by Ursa Major in a style superbly Johnsonese. The member from Old Sarum once sent Johnson two butts of Canary and a barrel of whitebait, as a token of appreciation for his skill in accurate reporting.

Pitt followed the usual course of successful reformers, and in due time lined up on the side of the conservatives, and gradually succumbed to a strictly aristocratic disease, gout. Whether genius is transmissible or not is a question, but all authorities agree as to gout.

Pitt’s opposition to the Walpoles was so very firmly rooted that it continued for life, and for this he was rewarded by the Duchess of Marlborough with a legacy of ten thousand pounds. Her Grace was the mother of the lady who had the felicity to have her picture painted by Gainsborough, which picture was brought to America and secreted here for many years and finally was purchased for sixty-five thousand dollars by Pierpont Morgan, through the kind offices of my friend Patricius Sheedy, Philistine-at-Large.