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favourable. That Pitt in the ten years from 1783 to 1793 accomplished a remarkable achievement, and had a conspicuous and perhaps a unique share in the astonishing national revival that followed the disasters of the American War, few would care to question. And this achievement, we cannot but remember, must be credited to a young man who, when he became Prime Minister in the autumn of 1783, had only the experience of a few months of office in Shelburne's ministry and the prestige of an immortal name at his command. The combination of Pitt's youth, inexperience and success is unparalleled in our political annals; and it is not surprising that the result dazzled judgments then and since. Contemporaries believed, and historians have too readily followed them in believing, that such a prodigy could not seriously fail and must always be right, even when facts point to the contrary. But Dr Rose thinks, and we are disposed to agree, that Pitt attained the zenith of his power in 1790. The failure to maintain the status quo in Europe through the Triple Alliance, the consequence of that failure (emphasised by Dr Rose) in the second dismemberment of Poland, which had such fatal results on the First Coalition, and the damaging Russian crisis which shook the stability of the Cabinet and left England once more isolated, were very grave set-backs to national progress and to Pitt's policy. And the moral they suggest is confirmed by preceding episodes and events, which furnish an instructive insight into the political and personal conditions under which Pitt worked, and the clearly-marked limitations in the principles of his political system both at home and abroad.
A bare list of the problems in this period (1783–1792) which Pitt was called upon to handle-finance, Ireland, India, Canada, the commercial treaty with France, the Dutch, Belgian and Baltic questions, the Triple Alliance and the Russo-Turkish War, Parliamentary Reform, the Slave Trade, the Regency Bill-is impressive; and the results seem to endorse the title of the Reform Period, which has passed into our history books. Dr Rose's phrase 'National Revival' is really more accurate, though we could wish he had raised and answered more explicitly the question, 'Was Pitt in any true sense a Reformer?' For both his measures and the degree of success achieved
convincingly suggest an answer in the negative. Pitt's foreign policy, opportunist, deliberate and sane, restored our prestige and place in the councils of Europe, and proved that Great Britain meant and was once more able to be a decisive element in the balance of power. But it introduced no new principles, nor was it inspired, except perhaps in the Treaty of 1786, by new and vivifying ideas; it accepted the old order and strove to preserve it intact against the revolutionary dynasticism of the Habsburgs, the historic ambition of the Bourbons, and the masked nationalism of Catherine II. The India Act was avowedly a compromise which extirpated some but by no means all administrative abuses, recognised the vested interests of the Company, and perpetuated the dualism set up by the Regulating Act. It certainly was not Fox's Bill; equally certainly it was not Chatham's imperial policy of 1765. In Ireland, after the failure of 1785, there was no reform either of the dangerous and unworkable governmental system embodied in the Acts of 1782 and 1783 or of the deep-seated and demoralising evils in the political and economic structure of that unhappy country. The Canada Act of 1791 betrayed no hint that Pitt had learnt the moral of the American War; and Dr Rose infers from his handling of the Australian convict question that he lacked 'the imperial imagination.' Even Pitt's financial measures, important and valuable as they proved to be, despite the effects of the Sinking Fund, were essentially administrative and fiscal, and were no fulfilment of the great programme of economic reform which Burke expounded and which would have made the system of George III and North impossible for the future. Pitt's failure to carry even the moderate scheme of parliamentary reform of 1785 and the Irish proposals of the same year are deeply significant in this connexion. We are driven, therefore, to two conclusions, first, that when Pitt diagnosed true reform as necessary he declined under pressure to insist on his diagnosis; secondly, that in most spheres of the national life he neither suggested a scheme nor recognised the necessity for organic reconstruction.
It is remarkable that one of the most notable of these measures, the creation in 1787 of the modern Consolidated Fund, duly explained by Dr Hunt, is passed over both in his text and his index by Dr Rose,
This unquestionably was partly due to the conditions under which he exercised power. The sweeping victory at the General Election of 1784 gave the 'schoolboy Prime Minister a 'national mandate' perhaps, but a vague and illusory one; for it left him in a precarious position unless he secured the consistent co-operation of the King and complete harmony in his Cabinet. In the issues of finance, India, Canada and foreign policy down to 1791, Pitt, the King and the Cabinet co-operated cordially on the whole. Pitt's policy in these matters accordingly went through without difficulty, national confidence was immensely strengthened, and the Minister's prestige correspondingly increased. But note what is revealed in other spheres of action. The insolent and damaging treachery of Thurlow, which cut at the root of Cabinet loyalty and solidarity, was not punished until 1792; the King and half the Cabinet were against parliamentary reform, and the ministerial majority promptly went against the Prime Minister; the Irish proposals were watered down to satisfy powerful English interests, with the result that they had to be withdrawn in Ireland, despite the 'influence' of the Castle; the abolition of the slave trade was really defeated by the King, half the Cabinet, and their willing ally, the House of Lords; the ultimatum to Russia revealed a serious split in the Cabinet, and, in Pitt's deliberate judgment, expressed 'with tears in his eyes' to Ewart, the certainty of a parliamentary defeat on the vote of credit if he persisted. In these and kindred affairs the Prime Minister yielded. The obvious yet illuminating inference is that he could only carry what King, Cabinet and ministerial majority permitted him to carry; and this powerful coalition was opposed to all organic reform. The crisis of the Regency Bill clinches the argument in a striking way. Both parties acted on the assumption that the Prince Regent would dismiss Pitt and put Fox into office; in short, that by a wave of the delegated sceptre the ministerial majority would be converted into a majority for Fox. Could there be a more eloquent tribute to the influence of the Crown, or a more suggestive commentary on the conditions under which Pitt conducted a National Revival? The sense of my people elsewhere than in the House of Commons' was not seriously considered; and
Pitt's decision to prepare for private life and practice at the Bar supports the conclusion that a dissolution would not have compelled the Prince, had he become Regent, to retain his father's Prime Minister.
Pitt therefore, from 1783 onwards, had, on more than one vital issue, a disagreeable choice between the policy without office and office without the policy. He chose the latter, to the increasing satisfaction of the governing class; but we know from Wilberforce and others that the sacrifice and the conditions were cruelly galling to his pride, his hopes and his independence. The parting of the ways came as early as 1785. The indispensable condition of comprehensive reforms was clearly a reformed legislature. Pitt had twice demonstrated the existing legislature to be 'not representative of the people of Great Britain' and the outcome of a vicious and corrupting system which 'had maintained in office a ministry [North's] that had worked ruin to the Empire.' After 1780 outside Westminster stood a new England with new political ideals; and every advance in the Industrial Revolution strengthened its claim to a share in the privileges and benefits of political power and emphasised the urgent case for a sane but organic reconstruction of the political machinery. The Poor Law had broken down; the criminal code was barbarous and futile; Nonconformists and Roman Catholics were disabled and penalised in political and civic rights; the land and game laws were the expression of an effete feudalism; municipal government was a corrupt sham; public education did not exist; our prisons were hot-beds of disease, immorality and injustice. But nothing was done; Pitt did not attempt to deal with these grave and menacing problems. The Libel Act of 1792, which partially freed the Press, came from Fox and the Opposition; and the unreformed Parliament steadily prevented the national Minister from entering into partnership with, and interpreting the needs of, the new England. Reform was impossible because 'the King's turnspit continued to be a member of Parliament;' and the King's turnspit justifiably feared 'reform,' quite as keenly as the King himself.
How far Pitt was convinced of the desirability and necessity of real and comprehensive reform is debatable. But in estimating his statesmanship in those golden years
from 1783 to 1793, before the red terror of the Revolution dominated the ruling class, the historian is obliged to record that there is no evidence that Pitt recognised the increasing danger to England and Ireland of doing nothing and permitting grave grievances to accumulate; and that he accepted and in many crucial cases concurred deliberately in the 'non possumus' of his party. Dr Rose holds, and we agree, that a great, indeed a matchless, opportunity was missed; but does not the blame lie as much with the Minister as with the system? England in those years might have been made invulnerable to every revolutionary peril; but most of her maladies were suppressed, not cured. While all that nursing and diet could accomplish was accomplished, surgery was forbidden; and Pitt, because he did not wish to be a surgeon, bowed to the veto. If England and Ireland suffered, Pitt himself suffered too. He was handcuffed henceforward by the unreformed Parliament. No less regrettable was the sterilising effect on his character and intellectual outlook. The Pitt of 1793 was not the Pitt of 1783. Disillusionment
and defeat had, unknown perhaps to himself, done their fatal work. The Minister's faith had imperceptibly passed from the noble optimism which believes that all things are possible for a nation renewing its youth, to the official opportunism which hopes that to-morrow may be better than to-day.
After 1783 we are confronted broadly with three central themes of inexhaustible interest-Ireland, the policy of the war, and the conduct of the war-and Dr Rose handles them in a critical spirit and with an assured mastery of the sources. The conclusions in his Irish chapters do not differ fundamentally from those of Lecky and Dr Hunt, though perhaps he is less critical of Pitt than the former and more critical than the latter. The most controversial and difficult of the issues really lie in the years 1793 to 1798; both before and after that date the verdicts of most competent judges are distinctly tending to substantial agreement. The failure to carry the financial and commercial proposals of 1785 is in every way deeply to be regretted. The illusory concordat of 1783, expressed in the repeal of Poynings' Law and 6 Geo. I, c. 6, was unworkable; and Pitt's scheme might have been the