Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

WILLIAM PITT.

THE younger

Pitt was the second son of Lord Chatham, and was seven years of age when his father in 1766 was admitted to the peerage. The boy's earliest peculiarity was an absorbing ambition to become his father's successor as the first orator of the day. His health, however, was so delicate as to cause the gravest apprehensions. Stanhope tells us that before he was fourteen “half of his time was lost through ill health,” and that his early life at Cambridge was “one long disease." There is still extant a remarkable letter that reveals better than any thing else the fond hopes of the father and the physical discouragement as well as the mental aspirations of the son. Chatham wrote: Though I indulge with inexpressible delight the thought of your returning health, I cannot help being a little in pain lest you should make

more haste than good speed to be well. How happy the task, my noble, amiable boy, to caution you only against pursuing too much all those liberal and praiseworthy things, to which less happy natures are perpetually to be spurred and driven. I will not tease you with too long a lecture in favor of inaction and a competent stupidity, your two best tutors and companions at present. You have time to spare; consider, there is but the Encyclopædia, and when you have mastered that, what will remain ?” The intimations of precocity here given were fully justified by the extraordinary progress made by the boy notwithstanding his bodily ailments. He entered the University of Cambridge at fourteen, and such was his scholarship at that time that his tutor wrote: “It is no uncommon thing for him to read into English six or eight pages of Thucydides which he had not previously seen, without more than two or three mistakes, and sometimes without even one.”

At the university, where he remained nearly seven years, his course of study was carried on

strictly in accordance with his father's directions and was somewhat peculiar. His most ardent devotion was given to the classics; and his method was that to which his father always attributed the extraordinary copiousness and richness of his own language. After looking over a passage so as to become familiar with the author's thought, he strove to render it rapidly into elegant and idiomatic English, with a view to reproducing it with perfect exactness and in the most felicitous form. This method he followed for years till, according to the testimony of his tutor, Dr. Prettyman, when he had reached the age of twenty," there was scarcely a Greek or Latin writer of any eminence the whole of whose works Mr. Pitt had not read to him in this thorough and discriminating manner.” This was the laborious way in which he acquired that extraordinary and perhaps unrivalled gift of pouring out for hour after hour an unbroken stream of thought without ever hesitating for a word or recalling a phrase or sinking into looseness or inaccuracy of expres

sion. The finest passages even of the obscurer poets he copied with care and stored away in his memory; and thus he was also qualified for that aptness of quotation for which his oratory was always remarkable.

With his classical studies Pitt united an unusual aptitude and fondness for the mathematics and for logic. To both of these he gave daily attention, and before he left the university, according to the authority above quoted, he was master in mathematics of every thing usually known by young men who obtain the highest academical honors. In logic, Aristotle was his master, and he early acquired the habit of applying the principles and methods of that great logician to a critical examination of all the works he studied and the debates he witnessed. It was probably this course of study which gave him his unrivalled power in reply. While still at Cambridge it was a favorite employment to compare the great speeches of antiquity in point of logical accuracy, and to point out the manner in which the reasoning

of the orator could be met and answered. The same habit followed him to London and into Parliament. His biographers dwell upon the fact, that whenever he listened to a debate he was constantly employed in detecting illogical reasoning and in pointing out to those near him how this argument and that could easily be answered. Before he became a member of Parliament, he was in the habit of spending much time in London and in listening to the debates on the great subjects then agitating the nation. But the speeches of his father and of Burke, of Fox, and of Sheridan seemed to interest him chiefly as an exercise for his own improvement. His great effort was directed to the difficult process of retaining the long train of argument in his mind, of strengthening it, and of pointing out and refuting the positions that seemed to him weak.

It would be incorrect to leave the impression that these severe courses of study were not intermingled with studies in English literature, rhetoric, and history. We are told that “he

« ZurückWeiter »