His real strength indeed lay not in Parliament but in the people at large. His significant title of "the great commoner " marks a political revolution. " It is the people who have sent me here," Pitt boasted with a haughty pride when the nobles of the Cabinet opposed his will. He was the first to see that the long political inactivity of the public mind had ceased, and that the progress of commerce and industry had produced a great middle class, which no longer found its representatives in the legislature. "You have taught me," said George the Second when Pitt sought to save Byng by appealing to the sentiment of Parliament, " to look for the voice of my people in other places than within the House of Commons." It was this unrepresented class which had forced him into power. During his struggle with Newcastle the greater towns backed him with the gift of their freedom and addresses of confidence. " For weeks," laughs Horace Walpole, "it rained gold boxes." London stood by him through good report and evil report, and the wealthiest of English merchants, Alderman Beckford, was proud to figure as his political lieutenant.
The temper of Pitt indeed harmonized admirably with the temper of the commercial England which rallied round him, with its energy, its self-confidence, its pride, its patriotism, its honesty, its moral earnestness. The merchant and the trader were drawn by a natural attraction to the one statesman of their time whose aims were unselfish, whose hands were clean, whose life was pure and full of tender affection for wife and child. But there was a far deeper ground for their enthusiastic reverence and for the reverence which his country has borne Pitt ever since. He loved England with an intense and personal love. He believed in her power, her glory, her public virtue, till England learned to believe in herself. Her triumphs were his triumphs, her defeats his defeats. Her dangers lifted him high above all thought of self or party-spirit. " Be one people," he cried to the factions who rose to bring about his fall: " forget everything but the public! I set you the example!" His glowing patriotism was the real spell by which he held England. But even the faults which chequered his character told for him with the middle classes. The Whig statesmen who preceded him had been men whose pride expressed itself in a marked simplicity and absence of pretence.
Pitt was essentially an actor, dramatic in the cabinet, in the House, in his very office. He transacted business with his clerks in full dress. His letters to his family, genuine as his love for them was, are stilted and unnatural in tone. It was easy for the wits of his day to jest at his affectation, his pompous gait, the dramatic appearance which he made on great debates with his limbs swathed in flannel and his crutch by his side. Early in life Walpole sneered at him for bringing into the House of Commons "the gestures and emotions of the stage." But the classes to whom Pitt appealed were classes no*, easily offended by fault; of taste, and saw nothing to laugh at in the statesman who was borne into the lobby amidst the tortures of the gout, or carried into the House of Lords to breathe his last in a protest against national dishonour.
Above all Pitt wielded the strength of a resistless eloquence. The power of political speech had been revealed in the stormy debates of the Long Parliament, but it was cramped in its utterance by the legal and theological pedantry of the time. Pedantry was flung off by the age the Revolution, but in the eloquence of Somers and his rivals we see ability rather than genius, knowledge, clearness of expression, precision of thought, the lucidity of the pleader or the man of business, rather than the passion of the orator. Of this clearness of statement Pitt had little or none. He was no ready debater like Walpole, no speaker of set speeches like Chesterfield. His set speeches were always his worst, for in these his want of taste, his love of effect, his trite quotations and extravagant metaphors came at once to the front. That with defects like these he stood far above every orator of his time was due above all to his profound conviction, to the earnestness and sincerity with which he spoke. " I must sit still," he whispered once to a friend, "for when once I am up everything that is in my mind comes out." But the reality of his eloquence was transfigured by a large and poetic imagination, and by a glow of passion which not only raised him high above the men of his own day but set him in the front rank among the orators of the world.
The cool reasoning, the wit, the common sense of his age made way for a splendid audacity, a sympathy with popular emotion, a sustained grandeur, a lofty vehemence, a command over the whole range of human feeling. He passed without an effort from the most solemn appeal to the gayest raillery, from the keenest sarcasm to the tenderest pathos. Every word was driven home by the grand self-consciousness of the speaker. He spoke always as one having authority. He was in fact the first English orator whose words were a power, a power not over Parliament only but over the nation at large. Parliamentary reporting was as yet unknown, and it was only in detached phrases and half-rernembered outbursts that the voice of Pitt reached beyond the walls of St. Stephen's. But it was especially in these sudden outbursts of inspiration, in these brief passionate appeals, that the power of his eloquence lay. The few broken words we have of him stir the same thrill in men of our day which they stirred in the men of his own. But passionate as was Pitt's eloquence, it was the eloquence of a statesman, not of a rhetorician.
Time has approved almost all his greater struggles, his defence of the liberty of the subject against arbitrary imprisonment under "general warrants," of the liberty of the press against Lord Mansfield, of the rights of constituencies against the House of Commons, of the constitutional rights of America against England itself. His foreign policy was directed to the preservation of Prussia, and Prussia has vindicated his foresight by the creation of Germany. We have adopted his plans for the direct government of India by the Crown, which when he proposed them were regarded as insane. Pitt was the first to recognize the liberal character of the Church of England. He was the first to sound the note of Parliamentary reform. One of his earliest measures shows the generosity and originality of his mind. He quieted Scotland by employing its Jacobites in the service of their country, and by raising Highland regiments among its clans. The selection of Wolfe and Amherst as generals showed his contempt for precedent and his inborn knowledge of men.