Слике страница
PDF
ePub

CHARACTER

OF

CHARLES JAMES FOX.

I HAVE long been anxious to convey to you my condolence on the death of our inestimable friend Mr. Fox. But I have been hitherto restrained by the dread of appearing to you obtrusive in the fresh hour of your affliction; and by a consciousness of my own inability to administer much to your comfort. Such is the wise constitution of our nature, that in certain situations, and for a certain time, it is better for us to follow the instinctive impulses of our feelings, than to wait for the slow and calm direction of our reason. Grief under such circumstances is impatient of the slightest interruption to that series of ideas which is most congenial to itself; and we then reject the very same topics of consolation, which we afterwards cherish and approve, when they occur to'us spontaneously, or when flowing from those around us, they fall in with other trains of thinking, which time has silently introduced iuto our bosoms.

Well knowing the poignant anguish occasioned by the loss of those whom we have been accus

al

tomed to regard with affection, I cannot but take a most lively share in your distress, heightened as I am aware it must be by the continual privation of the delight you formerly experienced in the conversation of a cheerful, sagacious, and most faithful friend. Pardon me, however, for expressing my hope that you are beginning to find some consolation, as I do, in reflecting upon the numerous and matchless excellencies of one whom England ought to consider as its best guardian, and the world as its most noble ornament. If the sublimity of his genius, the depth and variety of his knowledge, the solidity of his judgment, the gentleness of his private and the moderation of his public conduct, offer themselves to your mind, the sense you entertain of all his amiable and all his venerable qualities, accompanied perhaps by transient and involuntary illusions of his momentary presence among us, may suspend or mitigate your sorrow.

The pleasure I have myself had, though sometimes alloyed by melancholy, in looking back upon the many hours which I have passed in Mr. Fox's company, naturally leads me to consider your lot as highly fortunate, in having for so many years diligently cultivated, and uninterruptedly enjoyed the confidence of so valuable a man, and in the many endearing recollections which your long and unreserved habits of intimacy with him cannot fail to supply. If you had been called upon to select a friend from the whole human race, where could you have found one endowed as he was with the guileless playfulness of a child, and the most correct and

comprehensive knowledge of the world; or distinguished as he was by an elegant taste in the dead and living languages, by a thorough acquaintance with the most important events of past and present times, by a profound skill in the history, and by a well founded and well directed reverence for the constitution of his country, and by the keenest penetration into all the nearer and all the remoter consequences of public measures ? Where could you have found a statesman so qualified by the impartiality of his spirit and the extent of his views to fix upon right measures for the accomplishment of right ends : to separate appearances from realities in the political horizon: to reason down local and temporary prejudices into subjection to the eternal laws of justice, and to infuse confidence into the minds of enlightened foreigners, with whom he was officially to discuss the intricate and jarring claims of powerful and jealous nations ? Where could you have found an orator gifted with properties of eloquence so many and so great, always exciting attention by his ardour and rewarding it by his good sense; always adapting his matter to the subject, and his diction to the matter; never misrepresenting where he undertook only to confute, nor insulting because he had vanquished; instructive without a wish to deceive, and persuasive without an attempt to domineer; manfully disdaining to seize the incidental and subordinate advantages of controversy, and inflexibly intent upon develop

was

· The figures refer to the Notes at the end..

ing the substantial and specific merits of the cause in which he was engaged; eager for victory only as the prize of truth; holding up the most abstruse and uncommon principles in the most glowing colours, and dignifying the most common by new combinations; at one moment incorporating it with argument, and at the next ascending from historical details to philosophical generalization ; irresistible from effort, captivating without it, and by turns concise and copious, easy and energetic, familiar and sublime.

Furnished you certainly are with such delicacy of perception and such fulness of information, as qualify you to appreciate that assemblage of intellectual faculties, which in Mr. Fox was characterised by variety without disproportion, and by splendour without glare. But you must surely have been charmed again and again with those manners which in him were the native expressions of his thoughts, and with that temper which preserved him from the weakness of vanity, the corrosions of envy, and the asperities of pride; struck you must have been, equally with that tranquillity and firmness of soul which appeared so conspicuously through the whole career of his political life. Amidst the fiercest animosities of party contention never did the infidelity of associates, nor the calumnies of foes, destroy his equanimity. In the most alarming state of public ferment, never did the intreaties of his friends nor the menaces of his accusers, induce

9 slacken his exertions in the cause of public

Never was his piercing and ready wit so

employed as to violate the delicacies or abuse the freedom of friendship. Never did the loftiness of his nature permit him to treat any opponent with insolence, or any inferior with contempt. Even amidst the enthusiastic applause of popular assemblies, he never lost for one moment that sobriety and that magnanimity which forbade him to exult? in the conscious pre-eminence of his powers, and attract admiration towards himself at the hazard of the common weal.

I am sure that you will not refuse me your attention, when I endeavour to assuage both your grief and my own, by entering upon a large and, I hope, an impartial view of Mr. Fox's attainments as a scholar, his powers as a public speaker, and his merits as a statesman.

You, dear Sir, have not ceased to admire the easy flow of numbers and the varied tints of expression which adorn his poetical effusions. The clearness and purity of his English prose have not often been surpassed, and they may be well described in the language of Suetonius 3 upon the eloquence of Augustus.

Aware of the extraordinary responsibility which a great politician incurs, when he undertakes to record and explain the events of a great political æra, he would have given to his projected History 4 all the advantages, which multa dies and multa litura could have procured it. If he had lived to complete that work we should have seen many proofs of his capacity to soar into the loftiest style, where the dignity of his subject required amplification and

VOL. IV.

« ПретходнаНастави »