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skilful debaters, always ready to take advantage of any error he might commit. Yet he never lost his hold upon his favourite audience, the audience which best understood him and which he best understood. His unshaken confidence in the ultimate success of his policy communicated itself to his hearers, and they sustained him in circumstances which would certainly have made them distrust anybody else. His speeches were designed and constructed not so much to procure the triumph of a particular scheme or project as to quiet all scruples about the effect of temporary failure or disaster in averting the final result of a carefully premeditated design. He never allowed himself to appear discouraged, and therefore he succeeded in producing upon the House of Commons an impression that he had provided for whatever might ensue. A superb actor, like his father, he knew how to make the best use of all his gifts in presence of the keenest criticism, and to produce just the feeling of exultant trust which he endeavoured to inspire. Pitt was emphatically a man of peace. He sincerely desired, for the sake of the people, the material progress of the country, and to introduce a satisfactory Budget gave him more gratification than winning a pitched battle. Though idolised by Protectionists and Tories, he was a Free Trader and a Whig. It is all the more wonderful that, when he was driven, against his own will, into a war with France and when he found himself confronted with difficulties he was powerless to surmount, he could still maintain in Parliament the same undaunted haughtiness of demeanour, and display a courageous superiority to unfavourable conditions, which even those least inclined towards his policy or methods were compelled despite themselves, to admire. He was by no means exempt from despondency. But, whatever he felt, he always showed in Parliament an appearance of audacity and vigour which animated all his followers, and many of his opponents, with a belief that he must in the long run succeed.
The career of Pitt in the House of Commons was the more
remarkable because he had very little experience of Opposition. He was almost always on the defensive. Yet he not only held his own; he acquired such an ascendency in debate that his supremacy almost ceased to be challenged. He did not take advantage of his position by refusing to join in discussion. However arduous his labours might be outside the House, he was always on the Treasury Bench if the Government were criticised or attacked. His speeches illustrate the way in which an imperious statesman dominated the House by mingled argument and rhetoric. Pitt was by no means a Minister to the taste of George the Third. He was very unlike Lord North He imposed himself upon the King because he was the one man whom the House of Commons would follow. What then was the secret of his strength ?
It was that he knew exactly how to deal with a miscellaneous assembly, which liked to be treated with deference, and at the same time to be led. In the requisite combination of qualities no man ever equalled Pitt. When he failed, it was because the circumstances were such that no man could have succeeded. He is, however, to be tested as a debater chiefly by the first part of his Ministerial life. Then he was able to carry out his deliberate policy without the distraction of foreign war. During that part of the European campaign which preceded the Peace of Amiens he displayed extraordinary vigour. But he did not appreciate the nature of the struggle in which he was engaged. When he rose to power on the ruins of the Coalition in 1784, he made his way by sheer force of energy and ability to the foremost rank in the State. He could only retain the position he had won by the constant use of those gifts through which he had risen in the Parliamentary
He cultivated the art of debate until it became an instinct ; and he was never at a loss, because his full powers were always kept ready to be employed. No man has ever governed by speaking as Pitt did. . His oratory is, therefore, essentially practical. The magnificent displays of Fox were essentially critical. His force was directed against measures of which he disapproved, and it was wielded with superb mastery. But Pitt had to work with available material, and to make the best of his opportunities. He spoke to get his Bill carried, or his vote passed. The fine and pointed sayings which adorn his speeches were thrown out by the way. His main object and purport were invariably practical. His speeches must be considered with reference to the end which the orator had in view. That is, perhaps, what Fox meant when he said that he could always find a word, but that Pitt could always find the word.
Of all English orators Pitt was the most self-contained. He said neither more nor less than he meant to say. Regarding speech as an instrument of government, he used it for practical purposes as a method of carrying his point. He is a perfect example of the debater who made debate a form of action, who used the House of Commons as a lever for moving the world outside. The peculiarity of his speeches is that they are Parliamentary and yet a great deal more. They cannot be appreciated without reference to the particular circumstances in which they were made, although their style is adapted to the tone and temper of an assembly which Pitt made it his business to study and to understand. They must, therefore, always be considered and criticised from two separate points of view. There is their general merit as rhetorical literature, and their especial value as conducive to the end which Pitt had set before himself at the time. To inspire confidence was no doubt always his object. But it was not his way to leave arguments unanswered, so that he was doubly occupied with confuting objections and expounding policy. Leaving the business of administration to his colleagues, he undertook for his part to obtain the concurrence of the House of Commons in the plans of the Cabinet. No other man ever occupied quite the same position. He had to deal with all sorts of problems, and at the same time to satisfy a critical
audience that they were being adequately solved. His ascendency in Parliament resulted in some degree from early training. But it was brought to perfection by the assiduous practice of an art so delicate as to be scarcely definable, the art of commanding under the guise of persuasion. Of that art Pitt was a consummate master. He knew exactly how far to go, and when to stop. He made his hearers feel as he felt, and believe what he wished them to believe. It was an influence entirely legitimate in its source and scope, for the authority which it implied had been acquired by no ignoble means. Pitt carried his hearers with him because he appealed at once to their sentiments and their intellects, because he employed simultaneously the resources of eloquence and reason. Neither would have sufficed without the other. It was because Pitt brought both to bear upon the attainment of his purposes that he still deserves to be regarded as a model for that statesmanlike oratory which combines rhetorical splendour with practical effect.
Abolition of Slave Trade,
House of Commons, April 2nd, 1792 At this hour in the morning I am afraid, Sir, I am too much exhausted to enter so fully into the subject before the committee as I could wish; but if my bodily strength is in any degree equal to the task, I feel so strongly the magnitude of this question, that I am extremely earnest to deliver my sentiments which I rise to do with the more satisfaction, because I now look forward to the issue of this business with considerable hopes of success.
The debate has this day taken a turn, which, though it has produced a variety of new suggestions, has, upon the whole, contracted this question into a much narrower point than it was ever brought into before.
I cannot say that I quite agree with the right honourable gentleman over the way; I am far from deploring all that has been said by my two honourable friends. I rather rejoice that they have now brought this subject to a fair issue—that something, at least, is already gained, and that the question has taken altogether a new course this night. It is true a difference of opinion has been stated, and has been urged with all the force of argument that could be given to it. But give me leave to say that this difference has been urged upon principles very far removed from those which were maintained by the opponents of my honourable friend when he first brought forward his motion. There are very few of those who have spoken this night who have not thought it their duty to declare their full and entire concurrence with my honourable friend in promoting the abolition of the slave trade, as their ultimate object. However we may differ as to the time and manner of it, we are all agreed in the abolition itself; and my honourable friends have expressed their agreement in this sentiment with that sensibility upon the subject which humanity does most undoubtedly require. I do not, however, think they yet perceive what are the necessary consequences of their own concession, or follow up their own principles to their just conclusion.
The point now in dispute between us is a difference merely as to the period of time at which the abolition of the slavetrade ought to take place. I therefore congratulate this House, the country, and the world, that this great point is gained ; that one may now consider this trade as having received its condemnation; that its sentence is sealed; that this curse of mankind is seen by the House in its true light; and that the greatest stigma on our national character which ever yet existed is about to be removed ! And, Sir (which is still more important) that mankind, I trust, in general, are now likely to be delivered from the greatest practical evil that ever has afflicted the human race, from the severest and most extensive calamity recorded in the history of the world !
In proceeding to give my reasons for concurring with my honourable friend in his motion, I shall necessarily advert to those topics which my honourable friends near me have touched upon ; and which they stated to be their motives for preferring a gradual, and, in some degree, a distant abolition of the slavetrade, to the more immediate and direct measure now proposed to you. Beginning as I do with declaring that in this respect I differ completely from my right honourable friends near me, I do not, however, mean to say that I differ as to one observation