But the nation of which Chesterfield despaired was really on the eve of its greatest triumphs, and the miserable incapacity of the Duke of Newcastle only called to the front the genius of William Pitt. Pitt was the grandson of a wealthy governor of Madras, who had entered Parliament in 1735 as member for one of his father's pocket boroughs, and had headed the younger "patriots" in their attack on Walpole. The dismissal from the army by which Walpole met his attacks turned his energy wholly to politics. His fiery spirit was hushed in office during the "broad-bottom administration "which followed Walpole's fall, but after the death of Henry Pelham, Newcastle's jealousy of power threw him into an attitude of opposition and he was deprived of his place. When the disasters of the war however drove Newcastle from office in November 1756, Pitt became Secretary of State; but in four months the enmity of the King and of Newcastle's party drove him to resign. In July 1757, however, it was necessary to recall him. The failure of Newcastle to construct an administration forced the Duke to a junction with his rival; and fortunately for their country, the character of the two statesmen made the compromise an easy one.
For all that Pitt coveted, for the general direction of public affairs, the control of foreign policy, the administration of the war, Newcastle had neither capacity nor inclination. On the other hand, his skill in parliamentary management was unrivalled. If he knew little else, he knew better than any living man the price of every member and the intrigues of every borough. What he cared for was not the control of affairs, but the distribution of patronage and the work of corruption, and from this Pitt turned disdainfully away. "Mr. Pitt does everything," wrote Horace Walpole, "and the Duke gives everything. So long as they agree in this partition they may do what they please." Out of the union of these two strangely-contrasted leaders, in fact, rose the greatest, as it was the last, of the purely Whig administrations. But its real power lay from beginning to end in Pitt himself. Poor as he was, for his income was little more than two hundred a year, and springing as he did from a family of no political importance, it was by sheer dint of genius that the young cornet of horse, at whose youth and inexperience Walpole had sneered, seized a power which the Whig houses had ever since the Revolution kept jealously in their grasp.
His ambition had no petty aim. "I want to call England," he said as he took office, "out of that enervate state in which twenty thousand men from France can shake her." His call was soon answered. He at once breathed his own lofty spirit into the country he served, as he communicated something of his own grandeur to the men who served him. "No man," said a soldier of the time, "ever entered Mr. Pitt's closet who did not feel himself braver when he came out than when he went in." Ill-combined as were his earlier expeditions, many as were his failures, he roused a temper in the nation at large which made ultimate defeat impossible. "England has been a long time in labour," exclaimed Frederick of Prussia as he recognized a greatness like his own, "but she has at last brought forth a man".
It is this personal and solitary grandeur which strikes us most as we look back to William Pitt. The tone of his speech and action stands out in utter contrast with the tone of his time. In the midst of a society critical, polite, indifferent, simple even to the affectation of simplicity, witty and amusing but absolutely prosaic, cool of heart and of head, sceptical of virtue and enthusiasm, sceptical above all of itself, Pitt stood absolutely alone. The depth of his conviction, his passionate love for all that he deemed lofty and true, his fiery energy, his poetic imaginativeness, his theatrical airs and rhetoric, his haughty self-assumption, his pompousness and extravagance, were not more puzzling to his contemporaries than the confidence with which he appealed to the higher sentiments of mankind, the scorn with which he turned from a corruption which had till then been the great engine of politics, the undoubting faith which he felt in himself, in the grandeur of his aims, and in his power to carry them out. "I know that I can save the country," he said to the Duke of Devonshire on his entry into the Ministry, "and I know no other man can." The groundwork of Pitt's character was an intense and passionate pride; but it was a pride which kept him from stooping to the level of the men who had so long held England in their hands.
He was the first statesman since the Restoration who set the example of a purely public spirit. Keen as was his love of power, no man ever refused office so often, or accepted it with so strict a regard to the principles he professed. " I will not go to Court," he replied to an offer which was made him, "if I may not bring the Constitution with me." For the corruption about him he had nothing but disdain. He left to Newcastle the buying of seats and the purchase of members. At the outset of his career Pelham appointed him to the most lucrative office in his administration, that of Paymaster of the Forces; but its profits were of an illicit kind, and poor as he was Pitt refused to accept one farthing beyond his salary. His pride never appeared in loftier and nobler form than in his attitude towards the people at large. No leader had ever a wider popularity than "the great commoner," as Pitt was styled, but his air was always that of a man who commands popularity, not that of one who seeks it. He never bent to flatter popular prejudice.
When mobs were roaring themselves hoarse for "Wilkes and liberty," he denounced Wilkes as a worthless profligate; and when all England went mad in its hatred of the Scots, Pitt haughtily declared his esteem for a people whose courage he had been the first to enlist on the side of loyalty. His noble figure, the hawk-like eye which flashed from the small thin face, his majestic voice, the fire and grandeur of his eloquence, gave him a sway over the House of Commons far greater than any other minister has possessed. He could silence an opponent with a look of scorn, or hush the whole House with a single word. But he never stooped to the arts by which men form a political party, and at the height of his power his personal following hardly numbered half a dozen members.