An interesting eyewitness account by a visiting American, from June 1805.
Although Mr. Pitt remained silent with respect to the motion on the state of the army, I had the pleasure of hearing this great man speak a few minutes on a petition which he handed in. There was nothing in the subject which called for a display of eloquence; he made simply a statement of facts, but this served to identify his voice and manner. In his person he is tall and spare; he has small limbs, with large knees and feet; his features are sharp; his nose large, pointed, and turning up; his complexion sanguine; his voice deep-toned and commanding, yet sweet and perfectly well modulated, and his whole presence, notwithstanding the want of symmetry in his limbs, is, when he rises to speak, full of superiority and conscious dignity. I had a distinct view of him for six hours, during which time he sat directly before me. His dress was a blue coat with metallic buttons, a white vest, black satin breeches, and white silk stockings, with large buckles in his shoes. His hair was powdered. Notwithstanding the violence of the opposition, and their having been so long accustomed to his voice, when he rose, the House became so quiet, that a whisper might have been heard from any part. He was very deliberate, so that not a word was lost; still energy was his most striking characteristic.
Mr. Fox was also present. His person is very lusty. His neck is short,—his head large, round, and now quite grey,—his chest is broad and prominent, and his body and limbs vast and corpulent, even for England. His complexion is dark,—his features large,—eyes blue, close together, and of uncommon size, and his whole appearance peculiar, noble, and commanding. His hair was not powdered;—he wore a blue coat, with buff cassimere under dress, and white silk stockings.
I saw him in numerous situations, for he seemed very uneasy, and changed his place many times: he walked about—went out and came in—went up gallery and down, and was almost constantly in motion. He spoke a few minutes on a petition from a person imprisoned in Ireland for treason. His remarks were very pertinent to the case; his manner flowing, easy, and natural, but without the dignity and impressiveness of Pitt. He stood leaning forward, as if going up hill, and his fists were clenched and thrust into his waistcoat pockets. The caricatures both of him and Mr. Pitt are very correct, with the usual allowance for the extravagance of this kind of prints.
From A Journal of Travels in England, Holland and Scotland, vol 1, by Benjamin Silliman.
I tell you, Citizens, we mean to new-dress the Constitution, and turn it, and set a new Nap upon it.
Robespierre’s Reign of Terror spawned an evil little twin in William Pitt the Younger’s Reign of Alarm, 1792-1798 … Many lives and careers were ruined in Britain as a result of the alarmist regime Pitt set up to suppress domestic dissent while waging his disastrous wars against republican France. Liberal young writers and intellectuals whose enthusiasm for the American and French revolutions raised hopes for Parliamentary reform at home saw their prospects blasted. Over a hundred trials for treason or sedition (more than ever before or since in British history) were staged against ‘the usual suspects’ - that is, political activists. But other, informal, vigilante means were used against the ‘unusual suspects’ …: jobs lost, contracts abrogated, engagements broken off, fellowships terminated, inheritances denied, and so on and on. As in the McCarthy era in 1950s America, blacklisting and rumor-mongering did as much damage as legal repression. Dozens of ‘almost famous’ writers saw their promising careers nipped in the bud: people like Helen Maria Williams, James Montgomery, William Frend, Gilbert Wakefield, John Thelwall [pictured by Gillray, above], Joseph Priestley, Dr. Thomas Beddoes, Francis Wrangham and many others…From the blurb to a book I haven’t read yet, Unusual Suspects: Pitt’s Reign of Alarm and the Lost Generation of the 1790s, by Kenneth R. Johnston (2013).
The Home Secretary at the time was the Duke of Portland. This is what his biographer has to say about “Pitt’s Terror”:
The [Parliamentary Secret Committee, 1799] concluded … that there existed ‘the clearest proofs of a systematic design … to overturn the laws, constitution and government’ of Britain and Ireland … Although historians have not accepted the full extent of the committee’s arguments … the insurrectionary dangers of the later 1790s are no longer dismissed as alarmist delusions or cynical inventions. The ensuing round of repressive legislation, though offensive to liberal consciences, appeared justified to many contemporaries. Indeed, the tone of recent analysis has not turned so much upon disputes about the seriousness of the threat, as upon the individual historian’s viewpoint on the question whether the avoidance of revolution in Britain was a lamentable misfortune or a commendable triumph.From The Duke of Portland, by David Wilkinson (2003).
The coalition between Portland and Pitt certainly played a significant role in the prevention of revolution in Britain. The most serious accusation against this ministry is that unnecessarily repressive policies actually created the revolutionary danger which in turn necessitated further repression. There is some validity in this interpretation, but it hinges on the notion that gradual and progressive change was both desirable and feasible at this time. Although the British reform movement, by and large, expressed genuine abhorrence at revolutionary violence in its early stages, it nevertheless constituted a radical threat to established authority. Parliamentary reform was not a viable option under prevailing circumstances. Patriotism provided a potent line of argument that reform was a damaging distraction during wartime. Extra-parliamentary pressure could not elicit sufficient support at Westminster: the disintegration of the Whig party and the formation of the Pitt-Portland coalition made that fact patently obvious. Agitation if left unchecked must therefore have led to conflict with parliament and the crown … The mass protests of 1795 could not be ignored; and, sweeping as the provisions of the Gagging Acts undoubtedly were, they embodied an honourable objective of minimising the encroachment on civil liberties. Likewise, powers under the suspension of habeas corpus were exercised, in George III’s phrase, ‘with the greatest moderation’.
Francis II,William Pitt
manga by tetsuya hasegawa
You’re my bess mate, you are… lessgo fight the French.
You may remember you promised me the use of your Anderson’s Dictionary of Commerce, which you fancied was in your London collection. If you can find it and spare it, and will trust me with it, pray send it to Savile Street. Send me word at the same time that I shall see you at Brighton. I shall be in town to-morrow, and probably set out on Thursday.
Brighthelmstone, Wednesday, Aug 6, 1783.Dear Wilberforce,
Anderson’s Dictionary I have received, and am much obliged to you for it. I will return it safe, I hope not dirtied, and possibly not read.
Ever sincerely yrs,
Amazing Grace: William Pitt [INTJ]
Introverted Intuition (Ni): discarding excess information to focus on a single goal, planning for the future
Extroverted Thinking (Te): taking swift, judgmental action, to change events in the world around them
Introverted Feeling (Fi): the need to remain true to one’s personal beliefs, no desire to negotiate
Extroverted Sensing (Se): living in the moment, enjoying dangerous experiences
William Pitt sets out to become the youngest Prime Minister in history, and makes it happen (Ni-Te). His forward-focus is both an asset to his friend Wilberforce and to his political career, as he is forever preparing for the next war or upheaval in the House of Commons (Ni). He develops a lifelong intention to assist Wilberforce in abolishing the slave trade (Ni), but prefers to work behind the scenes so as not to damage his career (Te). He is a man of action, driven to practical, real-life application and solutions (Te).
His reasons for supporting abolition are personal and rarely shared with anyone else; despite their common goal, Pitt has very different ideas than Wilberforce and has no problems stating them (Fi). He is quick to seize opportunities when he sees them and enjoys testing the limits of his strength now and again, but finds it difficult to live in the moment (inferior Se).
From what I remember of Amazing Grace, this is a fair assessment of Pitt’s character in the film. But I’m more interested in the real Pitt, so I hopped over to Wikipedia to read up about MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator), Masterminds and the INTJ personality type.
This is from the article on Masterminds, who correlate primarily with the INTJ type, and make up about 1% of the population. Anyone who has studied Pitt will find much of this description strangely familiar:
Masterminds are introspective, logical, rational, pragmatic, clear-headed, directive, and attentive. As strategists, they are better than any other type at brainstorming approaches to situations. Masterminds are capable but not eager leaders, stepping forward only when it becomes obvious to them that they are the best for the job. [Yeah, maybe not that bit.] Strong-willed and very self-assured, they may make this decision quickly, as they tend to make all decisions. But though they are decisive, they are open to new evidence and new ideas, flexible in their planning to accommodate changing situations. They tend to excel at judging the usefulness of ideas and will apply whatever seems most efficient to them in accomplishing their clearly envisioned goals. To Masterminds, what matters is getting it done—but also learning the principles of how to get it done efficiently and well, that is, at a professional level of quality. However, they may not give much thought to the social cost of getting there, “focusing so tightly on their own pursuits [that] they can ignore the points of view and wishes of others.”
Masterminds are highly pragmatic, and they will put forth a great deal of time and effort to implement effective ideas. They are driven to solve complex problems and to create organized, decided, and executed solutions. Masterminds tend to make positive statements instead of negative ones, focusing on how to make the organization more efficient in the future rather than dwelling on past mistakes.
Masterminds are also highly theoretical, and one of the more open-minded of the 16 role variants. Before Masterminds adopt a theoretical notion, they insist on researching all the available data and checking the idea against reality. Masterminds are suspicious of theories based on poor research and will discard ideas that cannot be effectively implemented.
As leaders, Masterminds are skilled in contingency planning and entailment organizing, which are directive activities that tell the planner what activities to do and in what order to do them. Once in a position of power, Masterminds are known for their efficiency and willingness to adopt useful ideas.
INTJ is one of MBTI’s 16 personality types, characterised as follows:
I – Introversion preferred to extraversion: INTJs tend to be quiet and reserved. They generally prefer interacting with a few close friends rather than a wide circle of acquaintances, and they expend energy in social situations (whereas extraverts gain energy).
T – Thinking preferred to feeling: INTJs tend to value objective criteria above personal preference or sentiment. When making decisions they generally give more weight to logic than to social considerations.
J – Judgment preferred to perception: INTJs tend to plan their activities and make decisions early. They derive a sense of control through predictability, which to perceptive types may seem limiting.
So far so fairly Pitt-like. I’m not so sure about ‘N’, though:
N – Intuition preferred to sensing: INTJs tend to be more abstract than concrete. They focus their attention on the big picture rather than the details and on future possibilities rather than immediate realities.
Well OK, you don’t last very long as Prime Minister if you don’t get the big picture. But Pitt’s real strength was his supreme ability to drill down - to comprehend and assimilate the complex details of a problem, and then use that acquired knowledge to solve it. So I think in this respect he had at least as much ‘S’ as ‘N’ in his make up:
S – Sensing preferred to intuition: ISTJs tend to be more concrete than abstract. They focus their attention on the details rather than the big picture, and on immediate realities rather than future possibilities.
So - which character type does your fave historical person belong to?
'The plumb-pudding in danger' is probably Gillray's most famous print. It achieves its impact through the simplicity of its design and the brilliant economy with which Gillray captures the political situation. Napoleon Bonaparte and William Pitt face each other across a steaming 'plum-pudding' globe, both intent on carving themselves a substantial portion of the world. Pitt appears calm, meticulous and confident, spearing the pudding with a trident indicative of British naval supremacy. He lays claim to the oceans and the West Indies. In contrast Napoleon Bonaparte reaches from his chair with covetous, twitching eyes fixed on the prize of Europe and cuts away France, Holland, Spain, Switzerland, Italy and the Mediterranean.
My guest blog post on the 208th anniversary of William Pitt’s death.