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person with whom I have ever had connection, to whom I could say this.” His studies were confined almost entirely to the classics and history; he paid but little attention to the mathematics, a neglect which he afterward lamented as injurious to his mental training ; and perhaps for this reason he never felt the slightest interest, at this or any subsequent period, in those abstract inquiries which are designed to settle the foundations of moral and political science. Charles Butler having once mentioned to him that he had never read Smith's Wealth of Nations, “To tell you the truth,” said Mr. Fox, “ nor have I either. There is something in all these subjects which passes my comprehension ; something so wide that I could never embrace them myself, nor find any one that did.” This was one of the greatest defects in his character as a statesman. His tastes were too exclusively literary. With those habits of self-indulgence so unhappily created in childhood, he rarely did any thing but what he liked—he read poetry, eloquence, history, and elegant literature, because he loved them, and he read but little else. He had never learned to grapple with difficulties, except in connection with a subject which deeply interested his feelings. To secure some favorite object, he would now and then submit to severe drudgery, but he soon reverted to his old habits; and, with powers which, if rightly disciplined, would have enabled him to enter more easily than almost any man of his age into the abstrusest inquiries, he never mastered the principles of his own profession; he was not, in the striet sense of the term, a scientific statesman. He could discuss the Greek meters with Porson; and when a friend once insisted that a certain line in the Iliad could not be genuine because it contained measures not used by Homer, he was able, from his early recollections of the poet, instantly to adduce nearly twenty examples of the same construction. But he had no such acquaintance with the foundations of jurisprudence or the laws of trade; and at a period when the labors of Adam Smith were giving a new science to the world, and establishing the principles of political economy, the true source of the wealth of nations, he was obliged to say, “it is a subject which passes my comprehension." His deficiency in this respect was indeed less seen, because, being in opposition nearly all his life, he was rarely called to propose measures of finance ; his chief business was to break down, and not to build up; yet he always felt the want of an early training in scientific investigation, correspondent to that he received in classical literature.
Mr. Fox left the University at the age of seventeen, and entered at once upon manhood. The light restraints imposed during his education being now removed, he became sole master of his own actions; and the prodigal liberality of his father supplied him with unbounded means of indulgence. For two years he traveled on the Continent, making great proficiency in Italian and French literature, and plunging, at the same time, into all the extravagance and vice of the most corrupt capitals of Europe. His father had succeeded, even beyond his intentions, in making him a
leader in fashionable dissipation;' and he now began to fear that he had thus defeated his main design, that of training him up to be an 'orator and a statesman.' He recalled him from the Continent, and was compelled, in doing so (as afterward appeared from his banker's accounts), to pay one hundred thousand pounds of debt, contracted in two years! To wean him from habits which he had himself engendered, Lord Holland now resorted to the extraordinary expedient of having his son returned as a member of Parliament from Midhurst, a borough under his control, in May, 1768, being a year and eight months before he was eligible by law!
Under this return, Mr. Fox took his seat in the House, at the opening of Parliament in November, 1768. His deficiency in age was perhaps unknown; at all events, no one came forward to dispute his right. By education he was a Tory; he had distinguished himself when at Paris by some lively French verses reflecting severely on Lord Chatham; and in all his feelings, habits, and associations, he was opposed to the cause of popular liberty. He now came out a warm supporter of the Duke of Grafton, with whom his father was closely allied in politics, just after Junius's first attack on the administration of his Grace; and delivered his maiden speech, April 15th, 1769, in support of that flagrant outrage on the rights of the people, the seating of Colonel Luttrell, as a member of the House, in the place of John Wilkes. Horace Walpole speaks of him as distinguished for his “insolence” on this occasion, as well as "the infinite superiority of his parts." When Lord North came in as minister, in February, 1770, Mr. Fox, through the influence of his father, was appointed a junior Lord of the Admiralty, and three years after, one of the Lords of the Treasury His time was now divided between politics and gambling, and he was equally devoted to both. In the House, he showed great, though irregular power as an orator, and at the gaming-table he often lost from five to ten thousand pounds at a single sitting. Though he differed from Lord North on the Royal Marriage Bill and Toleration Act, he sustained his Lordship in all his political measures, and even went at times beyond him-declaring that, for his part, he “paid no regard whatever to the voice of the people;" urging the imprisonment of Alderman Oliver and the Lord Mayor of London for the steps they took to guard the liberty of the press; and inveighing against Sergeant Glynn's motion respecting the rights of juries in cases of libel, the very rights which he himself afterward secured to them by an act of Parliament ! To these views, derived from his father, and confirmed by all his present associates, he might very possibly have adhered through life, except for a breach which now took place between him and Lord North : so much do political principles depend on party connections and private interest. But his Lordship found Mr. Fox too warm and independent in his zeal ; he sometimes broke the ranks and took his place as a leader; and in one instance, when Woodfall was brought to the bar of the House for making too free a use of his press, Mr. Fox proposed an amendment to a motion made by his Lordship, and actually carried it against him, under which Woodfall was committed to Newgate-a measure never contemplated by the ministry, and only calculated to injure them by its harshness. Such a violation of party discipline could not be overlooked, and it was decided at once to dismiss him. A day or two after (February 17th, 1774), as he was seated on the Treasury bench conversing with Lord North, the following note was handed him by the messenger of the House :
"Sir,—His Majesty has thought proper to order a new commission of the Treasury to be made out, in which I do not perceive your name.
North." The cool contempt of this epistle shows the estimate in which he was held by the ministry, who plainly regarded him as a reckless gambler, whose friendship or hatred, notwithstanding all his talents, could never be of the least importance to any party. There was too much reason for this opinion. His father, after expending an enormous sum in paying his debts (one statement makes it £140,000 in the year 1773 alone), died about this time, leaving him an ample fortune, including his splendid estate in the Isle of Thanet; but the whole was almost immediately gone, sacrificed to the imperious passion which had taken such entire possession of his soul. Paris and London were equally witnesses to its power. The celebrated Madame Duffand, in a letter written at a somewhat later period, speaks of him and his companion, Colonel Fitzpatrick, as objects of curious speculation ; but adds, in another letter—" Je ne saurais m'interesser à eux : ce sont des têtes absolument dérangées et sans espérance de
The whole world, in fact, regarded him in very much the same way as Lord North
It is probable that nothing but a blow like this, showing him the contempt into
1 I could not interest myself in them: they are absolutely deranged in their minds, and there is no hope of their recovery.
which he had sunk, rousing all his pride, and driving him into the arms of new associates, whose talents commanded his respect, and whose instructions molded his political principles, could ever have saved Mr. Fox from the ruin in which he was involved. As it was, years passed away before he gained a complete mastery over this terrible infatuation ; and it may here be stated, by way of anticipation, that his friends, at a much later period (1793), finding him involved, from time to time, in the most painful embarrassments from this cause, united in a subscription, with which they purchased him an annuity of £3000 a year, which could not be alienated, and after this testimony of their regard he wholly abstained from gambling.
The period at which Mr. Fox now stood was peculiarly favorable to the formation of new and more correct political principles. Hitherto he had none that could be called his own; he had never, probably, reflected an hour on the subject; he had simply carried out those high aristocratic feelings with which he was taught from childhood to look down upon the body of the people. But a change in the policy of Lord North now made America the great object of political interest. Within a few weeks, the Boston Port Bill and its attendant measures were brought forward, designed to starve a town of twenty thousand inhabitants, with the adjoining province, into submission; the charter of that province was violently set aside; a British governor was empowered to send persons three thousand miles across the Atlantic, to be tried in England for supposed offenses in America ; and British troops were to be employed in carrying out these acts of violence and outrage. Mr. Fox was naturally one of the most humane of men ; “ He possessed,” says Lord Erskine, “ above all persons I ever knew, the most gentle and yet the most ardent spirit; he was tremblingly alive to every kind of private wrong or suffering; he had an indignant abhorrence of every species of cruelty, oppression, and injustice." With these feelings, quickened by the resentment which he naturally entertained against Lord North, it could not require much argument from Burke, Dunning, Barré, and the other leaders of the Opposition, into whose society he was now thrown, to make Mr. Fox enter with his whole soul into all their views of these violent, oppressive acts. He came out at once to resist them, and was the first man in the House who took the ground of denying the right of Parliament to tax the colonies without their consent. He affirmed that on this subject, “ Just as the House of Commons stands to the House of Lords, so stands America with Great Britain ;” neither party having authority to overrule or compel the other. He declared, “ There is not an American but must reject and resist the principle and right.” He accused Lord North of the most flagrant treachery to his adherents in New England. “You boast," said he,“ of having friends there ; but, rather than not make the ruin of that devoted country complete, even your friends are to be involved in one common famine!” His Lordship soon found that he had raised up a most formidable antagonist where he had least expected. Mr. Fox now entered into debate, not occasionally, as before, when the whim struck him, but earnestly and systemat. ically, on almost every question that came up; and his proficiency may be learned from a letter of Mr. Gibbon (who was then a member of the House and a supporter of the ministry), in which, speaking of a debate on the subject of America (February, 1775), he says: “The principal men both days were Fox and Wedderburne, on opposite sides : the latter displayed his usual talents; the former, taking the vast compass of the question before us, discovered powers for regular debate which neither his friends hoped nor his enemies dreaded.”—Misc. Works, ii., 21.
Mr. Fox's sentiments respecting the treatment of America, though springing, perhaps, at first from humane feelings alone, or opposition to Lord North, involved, as their necessary result, an entire change of his political principles. He was now brought, for the first time, to look at public measures, not on the side of privilege or prerogative, but of the rights and interests of the people. From that moment, all
the sympathies of his nature took a new direction, and he went on identifying himself more and more, to the end of life, with the popular part of the Constitution and the cause of free principles throughout the world. It was the test to which he brought every measure : it was his object, amid all the conflicts of party and personal interest, in his own expressive language, “ to widen the basis of freedom—to infuse and circulate the spirit of liberty.” As an orator, especially, he drew from this source the most inspiring strains of his eloquence. No English speaker, not even Lord Chatham himself, dwelt so often on this theme; no one had his generous sensibilities more completely roused; no one felt more strongly the need of a growing infusion of this spirit into the English government, as the great means of its strength and renova. tion. He urges this in a beautiful passage in his speech on Parliamentary Reform, "because it gives a power of which nothing else in governmeut is capable ; because it incorporates every man with the state, and arouses every thing that belongs to the soul as well as the body of man; because it makes every individual feel that he is fighting for himself and not for another; that it is his own cause, his own safety, his own concern, his own dignity on the face of the earth, and his own interest in that identical soil, which he has to maintain. In this principle we find the key to all the wonders which were achieved at Thermopylæ : the principle of liberty alone could create those sublime and irresistible emotions; and it is in vain to deny, from the striking illustration that our times have given, that the principle is eternal, and that it belongs to the heart of man.”
It was happy for Mr. Fox, in coming out so strongly against Lord North at the early age of twenty-five, that he enjoyed the friendship of some of the ablest men in the empire among the Whigs, on whom he could rely with confidence in forming his opinions and conducting his political inquiries. To Mr. Burke he could resort, in common with all the associates of that wonderful man, for every kind of knowledge on almost every subject; and he declared, at the time of their separation from each other in 1791, that “if he were to put all the political information which he had learned from books, all he had gained from science, and all which any knowledge of the world and its affairs had taught him, into one scale, and the improvement which he had derived from his right honorable friend's instruction and conversation were placed in the other, he should be at a loss to decide to which to give the preference.” Mr. Dunning (afterward Lord Ashburton) was another leader among the Whigs, who, though less generally known as an orator from the imperfection of his voice and manner, was one of the keenest opponents in the House of those arbitrary acts into which George III. drove the Duke of Grafton and Lord North ; and it can hardly be doubted that he had great influence with Mr. Fox at this time (though they were separated at a later period) in weaning him from his early predilections for the royal prerogative, and inspiring him with those sentiments which the Whigs expressed in their celebrated resolution (drawn up by Mr. Dunning himself), that " the influence of the Crown has increased, is increasing, and ought TO BE DIMIN
* The reader will be interested in the following beautiful tribute to the memory of Lord Ashburton as an orator, from the pen of Sir William Jones : “ His language was always pure, always elegant, and the best words dropped easily from his lips into the best places with a fluency at all times astonishing, and, when he had perfect health, really melodious. That faculty, however, in which no mortal ever surpassed him, and which all found irresistible, was his wit. This relieved the weary, calmed the resentful, and animated the drowsy; this drew smiles even from such as were the objects of it, and scattered flowers over a desert, and, like sunbeams sparkling on a lake, gave spirit and vivacity to the dullest and least interesting cause. Not that his accomplishments as an advocate consisted principally of volubility of speech or liveliness of raillery. He was endued with an intellect sedate yet penetrating, clear yet profound, subtle yet strong. His knowl. edge, too, was equal to his imagination, and his memory to his knowledge."- Works, vol. iv, p. 577.
The ambition of Mr. Fox was now directed to a single object, that of making himself a powerful debater. A debater, in the distinctive sense of the term, is described by a lively writer, as “one who goes out in all weathers"-one who, instead of carrying with him to the House a set speech drawn up beforehand, has that knowledge of general principles, that acquaintance with each subject as it comes up, that ready use of all his faculties, which enables him to meet every question where he finds it, to grapple with his antagonist at a moment's warning, and to avail himself of every advantage which springs from a perfect command of all his powers and resources. These qualities are peculiarly necessary in the British House of Commons, because the most important questions are generally decided at a single sitting ; and there is no room for that pernicious custom so prevalent in the American Congress, of making interminable speeches to constituents under a semblance of addressing the House. In addition to great native quickness and force of mind, long-continued practice is requisite to make a successful debater. Mr. Fox once remarked to a friend, that he had literally gained his skill " at the expense of the House,” for he had sometimes tasked himself, during an entire session, to speak on every question that came up, whether he was interested in it or not, as a means of exercising and training his faculties. He now found it necessary to be intimately acquainted with the history of the Constitution and the political relations of the country; and though he continued for some years to be a votary of pleasure, he had such wonderful activity of mind and force of memory, that he soon gained an amount of information on these topics such as few men in the House possessed, and was able to master every subject in debate with surprising facility and completeness. In all this he thought of but one thing—not language, not imagery, not even the best disposition and sequence of his ideas, but argument : how to put down his antagonist, how to make out his own case. His love of argument was, perhaps, the most striking trait in his character. Even in conversation (as noticed by a distinguished foreigner who was much in his society), he was not satisfied, like most men, to throw out a remark, and leave it to make its own way, he must prove it, and subject the remarks of others to the same test; so that discussion formed the staple of all his thoughts, and entered to a great extent into all his intercourse with others. With such habits and feelings, he rose, says Mr. Burke," by slow degrees to be the most brilliant and accomplished debater the world ever saw.” There was certainly nothing of envy or disparagement (though charged upon him with great bitterness by Dr. Parr) in Mr. Burke's selecting the term " debater” to express the distinctive character of Mr. Fox. The character is one which gives far more weight and authority to a speaker in Parliament, than the most fervid oratory when unattended by the qualities mentioned above. It was not denied by Mr. Burke, but rather intimated by his use of the word “ brilliant,” that Mr. Fox did superinduce upon those qualities an ardor and an eloquence by which (as every one knows) he gave them their highest effect. It is emphatically true, also, notwithstanding Dr. Parr's complaint of the expression, that Mr. Fox did rise " by slow degrees” to his eminence as an orator, an eminence of so peculiar a kind that no human genius could ever have attained it in any other way; and it is equally true, that whenever the name of Mr. Fox is mentioned, the first idea which strikes every mind is the one made thus prominent by Mr. Burke—we instantly think of him as "the most brilliant and accomplished debater the world ever saw.” So much, indeed, was this the absorbing characteristic of his oratory, that nearly all his faults lay in this direction. He had made himself so completely an intellectual gladiator, that too often he thought of nothing but how to obtain the victory.
Notwithstanding the irregularities of his private life, to which Mr. Fox still unfortunately clung, he gradually rose as a speaker in Parliament, until, at the end of Lord North's administration, he was the acknowledged leader of the Whig party in