Page images

WILLIAM PITT (1759-1806)



N William Pitt, the younger, we possess an example of which

there are few instances in history, that of a great orator inherit

ing his power from a father famous in the same field. The fame of the younger Pitt equals, though it does not eclipse, that of his father, the celebrated Lord Chatham. They could, indeed, scarcely be spoken of as rivals, their style of oratory being radically different. “ Viewing the forms of the two Pitts, father and son,” says a biographical writer, "as they stand in history, what different emotions their images call forth! The impassioned and romantic father seems like a hero of chivalry; the stately and classical son, as a Roman dietator, compelled into the dimensions of an English minister.” Brougham ranks the younger Pitt with the world's great orators, crediting him, while possessing little ornament in rhetoric, variety in style or grace in manner, with unbroken fluency and fine declamation, by which he was able to seize and hold the attention of his audience till he chose to let it go. He is admitted to have been a consummate debater, and almost unequaled in sarcasm, yet, as Brougham says, “ The last effect of the highest eloquence was for the most part wanting; we seldom forgot the speaker or lost the artist in his work.”


[The occasion which called forth the oratory of the younger Pitt was the excesses of the French Revolution, with the military triumphs of Napoleon that followed, and his strong and often unscrupulous measures for weakening the opposition of the hostile States. Against this Pitt fought with all his strength while his life lasted. The example of his oratory given is from his speech of June 7, 1799, on the question of granting a subsidy to the Russian army, “for the deliverance of Europe."']

[blocks in formation]

The honorable gentleman says he wishes for peace, and that he approved more of what I said on this subject towards the close of my speech, than of the opening. Now what I said was that, if by powerfully seconding the efforts of our allies, we could only look for peace with any prospect of realizing our hopes, whatever would enable us to do so promptly and effectually would be true economy. I must, indeed, be much misunderstood, if generally it was not perceived that I meant that whether the period which is to carry us to peace be shorter or longer, what we have to look to is not so much when we shall make peace, as whether we shall derive from it complete and solid security; and that whatever other nations may do, whether they shall persevere in the contest, or untimely abandon it, we have to look to ourselves for the means of defence; are to look to the means to secure our Constitution, preserve our character, and maintain our independence, in the virtue and perseverance of the people.

There is a high-spirited pride, an elevated loyalty, a generous warmth of heart, a nobleness of spirit, a hearty, manly gaiety, which distinguish our nation, in which we are to look for the best pledges of general safety, and of that security against an aggressing usurpation, which other nations in their weakness or in their folly have yet nowhere found. With respect to that which appears so much to embarrass certain gentlemen,-the deliverance of Europe,- I will not say particularly what it is. Whether it is to be its deliverance under that which it suffers, or that from which it is in danger ; whether from the infection of false principles, the corroding cares of a period of distraction and dismay, or that dissolution of all governments and that death of religion and social order which are to signalize the triumph of the French republic—if unfortunately for mankind she should, in spite of all opposition, prevail in the contest;—from whichsoever of these Europe is to be delivered, it will not be difficult to prove that what she suffers and what is her danger are the power and existence of the French Government. If any man says that the Government is not a tyranny, he miserably mistakes the character of that body. It is an insupportable and odious tyranny, holding within its grasp the lives, the characters, and the fortunes of all who are forced to own its sway, and only holding these that it may at will measure out to each the portion which from time to time it sacrifices to its avarice, its cruelty, and injustice. The French Republic is diked and fenced round with crime, and owes much of its present security to its being regarded with a horror which appals men in their approaches to its impious battlements.

In the application of this principle I have no doubt but the honorable gentleman admits the security of the country to be the legitimate

[blocks in formation]


object of the contest; and I must think I am sufficiently intelligible on this topic. But, wishing to be fully understood, I answer the honorable gentleman when he asks : “Does the right honorable gentleman mean to prosecute the war until the French Republic is overthrown? determination not to treat with France while it continues a republic ?" I answer: I do not confine my views to the territorial limits of France; I contemplate the principles, character, and conduct of France; I consider what these are ; I see in them the issues of distraction, of infamy and ruin, to every State in her alliance; and, therefore, I say that until the aspect of that mighty mass of iniquity and folly is entirely changed ; tintil the character of the Government is totally reversed ; until, by common consent of the general voice of all men, I can with truth tell Parliament, France is no longer terrible for her contempt of the rights of every other nation; she no longer avows schemes of universal empire; she has settled into a state whose government can maintain those relations in their integrity, in which alone civilized communities are to find their security, and from which they are to derive their distinction and their glory,-until in the situation of France we have exhibited to us those features of a wise, a just, and a liberal policy, I cannot treat with her.

The time to come to the discussion of a peace can only be the time when you can look with confidence to an honorable issue; to such a peace as shall at once restore to Europe her settled and balanced constitution of general polity, and to every negotiating power in particular that weight in the scale of general empire which has ever been found the best guarantee and pledge of local independence and general security. Such are my sentiments. I am not afraid to avow them. I commit them to the thinking part of mankind, and if they have not been poisoned by the stream of French sophistry, and prejudiced by her falsehood, I am sure they will approve of the determination I have avowed for those grave and mature reasons on which I found it. I earnestly pray that all the Powers engaged in the contest may think as I do, and particularly the Emperor of Russia, which, indeed, I do not doubt; and, therefore, I do contend that with that Power it is fit that the House should enter into the engagement recommended in his Majesty's message.

ROBERT EMMET (1780-1803)

OBERT EMMET, as an orator, was practically “a man of one

speech,” but that was a great speech, an extraordinary effort

for a man of only twenty-three years of age. He was fighting for his life and his country, two causes abundantly well calculated to rouse a man to the supreme exercise of his faculties, and as a masterpiece of extemporaneous eloquence this impassioned speech has no superior in any language. Emmet. was one of the chiefs of the “ United Irishmen.” Inspired by the misguided fervor of youth, he put himself at the head of a party of the rabble of Dublin, who killed a number of people, including the Chief Justice. The party was quickly dispersed, and Emmet.-—who missed the opportunity to escape by lingering to bid farewell to his lady-love, a daughter of Curran, the orator—was arrested, put on trial, found guilty of high treason, and executed the next day.

A PATRIOT'S PLEA [After the verdict of guilty was rendered, Emme! was asked, in the usual form, “What have you, therefore, now to say, why judgment of death and execution should not be awarded against you according to law?He rose and delivered an extended address to the Court, interrupted at intervals by Lord Norbury, chief among his judges, who permitted himself to be incensed by the condemned man's remarks. From this death plea we select some of the more thrilling passages.]

What have I to say, why sentence of death should not be pronounced on me, according to law? I have nothing to say which can alter your predetermination, or that it would become me to say with any view to the mitigation of that sentence which you are here to pronounce, and which I must abide. But I have that to say which interests me more than life, and which you have labored—as was necessarily your office in the present

[blocks in formation]

circumstances of this oppressed country—to destroy. I have much to say, why my reputation should be rescued from the load of false accusation and calumny which has been heaped upon it. I do not imagine that, seated where you are, your minds can be so free from impurity as to receive the least impression from what I am going to utter. I have no hope that I can anchor my character in the breast of a Court constituted and trammelled as this is. I only wish, and it is the utmost I expect, that your Lordships may suffer it to float down your memories, untainted by the foul breath of prejudice, until it finds some more hospitable harbor, to shelter it from the rude storm by which it is at present buffeted.

Were I only to suffer death, after being adjudged guilty by your tribunal, I should bow in silence, and meet the fate that awaits me without a murmur. But the sentence of the law which delivers my body to the executioner will, through the ministry of that law, labor, in its own vindication, to consign my character to obloquy: for there must be guilt somewhere,--whether in the sentence of the Court, or in the catastrophe, posterity must determine. A man in my situation, my Lords, has not only to encounter the difficulties of fortune, and the force of power over minds which it has corrupted or subjugated, but the difficulties of established prejudice. The man dies, but his memory lives. That mine may not perish, that it may live in the respect of my countrymen, I seize upon this opportunity to vindicate myself from some of the charges alleged against me. When my spirit shall be wasted to a more friendly port; when my shade shall have joined the bands or those martyred heroes who have shed their blood, on the scaffold and in the field, in defence of their country and of virtue ; this is my hope: I wish that my memory and name may animate those who survive me, while I look down with complacency on the destruction of that perfidious Government which upholds its dominion by blasphemy of the Most High; which displays its power over man as over the beasts of the forest ; which sets man upon his brother, and lifts his hand, in the name of God, against the throat of his fellow, who believes or doubts a little more, or a little less, than the Government standard,-a Government which is steeled to barbarity by the cries of the orphans and the tears of the widows which it has made.

I appeal to the immaculate God, -to the throne of Heaven, before which I must shortly appear,—to the blood of the murdered patriots who have gone before,—that my conduct has been, through all this peril, and through all my purposes, governed only by the convictions which I have uttered, and by no other view than that of the emancipation of my country from the superinhuman oppression under which she has so long and too patiently travailed; and that I confidently and assuredly hope that, wild

« PreviousContinue »