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Lord Chatham

His Early Life and Connections

274 pages
Library of Alexandria
My first words of preface must be of excuse for some apparent lack of gratitude in my dedication. For besides my debt to Mr. Fortescue, I owe my warmest acknowledgments to Mary, Lady Ilchester, and her son, for the permission to examine some of the papers of Henry Fox; a character of great interest, whose life is yet to be written. But I hope that this will soon be presented by Lord Ilchester, whose capacity for such work is already proved. I render my sincere thanks both to him and to his mother; but my dedication, written long before I had access to the Holland House papers, must remain unchanged; for without Mr. Fortescue's family collection of papers at Dropmore this book could never have been begun. The life of Chatham is extremely difficult to write, and, strictly speaking, never can be written at all. It is difficult because of the artificial atmosphere in which he thought it well to envelop himself, and because the rare glimpses which are obtainable of the real man reveal a nature so complex, so violent, and so repressed. What is this strange career? Born of a turbulent stock, he is crippled by gout at Eton and Oxford, then launched into a cavalry regiment, and then into Parliament. For eight years he is groom-in-waiting to a prince. Then he holds subordinate office for nine years more. Then he suddenly flashes out, not as a royal attendant or a minor placeman, but as the people's darling and the champion of the country. In obscure positions he has become the first man in Britain, which he now rules absolutely for four years in a continual blaze of triumph. Then he is sacrificed to an intrigue, but remains the supreme statesman of his country for five years more. Then he becomes Prime Minister amid general acclamation; but in an instant he shatters his own power, and retires, distempered if not mad, into a cell. At last he divests himself of office, and recovers his reason; he lives for nine years more, a lonely, sublime figure, but awful to the last, an incalculable force. He dies, practically, in public, as he would have wished; and the nation, hoping against hope, pins its faith in him to the hour of death. And for most of the time his associations are ignoble, if not humiliating. He had to herd with political jobbers; he has to serve intriguing kinsfolk; he had to cringe to unworthy Kings and the mistresses of Kings; he is flouted and insulted by a puppet whig like Rockingham. Despite all this he bequeaths the most illustrious name in our political history; and it is the arduous task of his biographer to show how these circumstances led to this result