Home  »  Volume XI: English THE PERIOD OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION  »  § 16. The Younger Pitt

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XI. The Period of the French Revolution.

II. Political Writers and Speakers

§ 16. The Younger Pitt

On the whole, Pitt was more favoured in his delivery than his competitor. Fox’s clumsy figure, negligently dressed in blue and buff, seemed unprepossessing; only his shaggy eyebrows added to the expression of his face; his voice would rise to a bark in excitement. Pitt was always dignified and composed:

  • In solemn dignity and sullen state,
  • This new Octavius rises to debate,
  • wrote George Ellis, carping, in The Rolliad. But his musical voice, in spite of its monotony, enchanted the house, and his manner carried authority with it. He was even more lucid than Fox; the whole course of his argument lay clear even in an unpremeditated speech. And he was far more selective in his reasoning. Only the really decisive considerations were enforced by him, and, in expounding a general policy, he was unequalled. He was architectonic by nature; each speech is a symmetrical building, proceeding from foundation to coping-stone. His diction, the “blaze of elocution” for which he was renowned, was copious and graceful, but, also, prolix amost beyond endurance, and too often leaves the impression that there is nothing in it, and that Pitt himself either did not intend to say anything or was concealing how little he had to say. The matter, indeed, is generally commonplace, though there is a statesmanlike good sense about it which is unlike the perverse ingenuity of Fox, adding argument to argument to obtain an unwise conclusion. None the less, if Pitt’s style be antiquated and, at times, stilted, it can rise, as it does in his celebrated speech on the slave-trade in 1792, to magnificent declamation. His perorations, growing out of his preceding matter as they do, and containing definite reasoning and not mere verbal finery, show him at his best. It was in them that he displayed to the full his skill in the then much prized art of Latin quotation. Every speaker, if he could, quoted Latin verse to point his sayings; but Pitt excelled all in his felicitous selection. Longfamous passages seemed hardly quoted by him, it seemed rather that the orator’s stately period itself rose into poetry.