|Classicpersuasion.org||Lord Chatham index|
LAST SPEECH OF LORD CHATHAM.
DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS.
APRIL 7, 1778.
APRIL 7, 1778. AFTER the delivery of the preceding speech, Lord Chatham continued to decline in health, and would probably never have appeared again in the House of Lords, had not a measure been proposed, against which he felt bound to enter a public remonstrance, even at the hazard of his life. Ignorant of the real state of feeling in America, he thought the colonies might be still brought back to their former allegiance and affection, if their wrongs were redressed. He learned, therefore, "with unspeakable concern," that his friend the Duke of Richmond was about to move an address to the King, advising his Majesty to make a peace involving American independence, which Lord Chatham thought would be the ruin of his country. On the 7th of April, 1778, therefore, the day appointed for the Duke of Richmond's motion, he came to Westminster, and refreshed himself for a time in the room of the Lord Chancellor, until he learned that business was about to commence. "He was then led into the House of Peers," says his biographer, by his son, the Honorable William Pitt, and his son-in-law, Lord Mahon. He was dressed in a rich suit of black velvet, and covered up to the knees in flannel. Within his large wig, little more of his countenance was seen than his aquiline nose, and his penetrating eye, which retained all its native fire. He looked like a dying man, yet never was seen a figure of more dignity. He appeared like a being of a superior species. The Lords stood up and made a lane for him to pass to his seat, while, with a gracefulness of deportment for which he was so eminently distinguished, he bowed to them as he proceeded. Having taken his seat, he listened with profound attention to the Duke of Richmond's speech."
After Lord Weymouth had replied in behalf of the ministry, Lord Chatham rose with slowness and difficulty from his seat, and delivered the following speech. It is very imperfectly reported, and is interesting chiefly as showing "the master spirit strong in death;" for he sunk under the effort, and survived only a few days. Supported by his two relations, he lifted his hand from the crutch on which be leaned, raised it up, and, casting his eyes toward heaven, commenced as follows:
I thank God that I have been enabled to come here to-day--to perform my duty, and speak on a subject which is so deeply impressed on my mind. I am old and infirm. I have one foot--more than one foot--in the grave. I have risen from my bed to stand up in the cause of my country--perhaps never again to speak in this House.
["The reverence, the attention, the stillness of the House," said an eye-witness, "were here most affecting: had any one dropped a handkerchief, the noise would have been heard."
As he proceeded, Lord Chatham spoke at first in a low tone, with all the weakness of one who is laboring under severe indisposition. Gradually, however, as he warmed with the subject, his voice became louder and more distinct, his intonations grew more commanding, and his whole manner was solemn and impressive in the highest degree. He went over the events of the American war with that luminous and comprehensive survey for which he was so much distinguished in his best days. He pointed out the measures he had condemned, and the results he had predicted, adding at each stage, as he advanced, "And so it proved! And so it proved!" Adverting, in one part of his speech, to the fears entertained of a foreign invasion, he recurred to the history of the past: "A Spanish invasion, a French invasion, a Dutch invasion, many noble Lords must have read of in history; and some Lords" (looking keenly at one who sat near him, with a last reviving flash of his sarcastic spirit), "some Lords may remember a Scotch invasion!," He could not forget Lord Mansfield's defense of American taxation, and the measures of Lord Bute, which had brought down the country to its present degraded state, from the exalted position to which he had raised it during his brief but splendid administration. He then proceeded in the following terms :] My Lords, I rejoice that the grave has not closed upon me; that I am still alive, to lift up my voice against the dismemberment of this ancient and most noble monarchy! Pressed down as I am by the hand of infirmity, I am little able tn assist my country in this most perilous conjuncture; but, my Lords, while I have sense and memory, I will never consent to deprive the offspring of the royal house of Brunswick, the heirs of the Princess Sophia, of their fairest inheritance. I will first see the Prince of Wales, the Bishop of Osnaburgh, and the other rising hopes of the royal family, brought down to this committee, and assent to such an alienation. Where is the man who will dare to advise it? My Lords, his Majesty succeeded to an empire as great in extent as its reputation was unsullied. Shall we tarnish the luster of this nation by an ignominious surrender of its rights and fairest possessions? Shall this great nation, that has survived, whole and entire, the Danish depredations, the Scottish inroads, the Norman conquest--that has stood the threatened invasion of the Spanish Armada, now fall prostrate before the house of Bourbon? Surely, my Lords, this nation is no longer what it was! Shall a people that seventeen years ago was the terror of the world, now stoop so low as to tell its ancient inveterate enemy, Take all we have, only give us peace? It is impossible!
I wage war with no man or set of men. I wish for none of their employments; nor would I co-operate with men who still persist in unretracted error, or who, instead of acting on a firm, decisive line of conduct, halt between two opinions, where there is no middle path. In God's name, if it is absolutely necessary to declare either for peace or war, and the former can not be preserved with honor, why is not the latter commenced without delay? I am not, I confess, well informed as to the resources of this kingdom, but I trust it has still sufficient to maintain its just rights, though I know them not. But, my Lords, any state is better than despair. Let us at least make one effort, and, if we must fall, let us fall like men!
When Lord Chatham had taken his seat, Lord Temple remarked to him, "You have forgotten to mention what we have been talking about. Shall I get up?" " No," replied Lord Chatham, " I will do it by-and-by."
Lord Richmond replied to Lord Chatham, telling him that the country was in no condition to continue the war; and that, even if he himself were now (as formerly) at the head of affairs, his name, great as it was, could not repair the shattered fortunes of the country. Lord Chatham listened with attention, but gave indications, at times, both by his countenance and his gestures, that he felt agitated or displeased.
When the Duke of Richmond had ended his speech, Lord Chatham made a sudden and strenuous attempt to rise, as if laboring under the pressure of painful emotions. He seemed eager to speak; but, after repeated efforts, he suddenly pressed his hand on his heart, and sunk down in convulsions. Those who sat near him caught him in their arms. His son William Pitt, then a youth of seventeen, who was standing without the bar, sprang forward to support him. It is this moment which Copley has chosen for his picture of the death of Lord Chatham. "History," says an able writer, "has no nobler scene to show than that which now occupied the House of Lords. The unswerving patriot, whose long life had been devoted to his country, had striven to the last. The aristocracy of the land stood around, and even the brother of the sovereign thought himself honored in being one of his supporters; party enmities were remembered no more; every other feeling was lost in admiration of the great spirit which seemed to be passing away from among them." He was removed in a state of insensibility from the House, and carried to Hayes, where he lingered a few days, and died on the 11th of May, 1778, aged seventy.
*Scanned for Classicpersuasion.org from the first edition of Select British Eloquence, edited with notes by Chauncey A. Goodrich (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1852)
|Classicpersuasion.org||Lord Chatham index|