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William Godwin: his Friends and Contemporaries
Ch. VII. 1806-1811
William Godwin, “C. J. Fox” in Morning Chronicle [21 October 1806]

Contents Vol. I
Ch. I. 1756-1785
Ch. II. 1785-1788
Ch. III. 1788-1792
Ch. IV. 1793
Ch. V. 1783-1794
Ch. VI. 1794-1796
Ch. VII. 1759-1791
Ch. VII. 1791-1796
Ch. IX. 1797
Ch. X. 1797
Ch. XI. 1798
Ch. XII. 1799
Ch. XIII. 1800
Contents Vol. II
Ch. I. 1800
Ch. II. 1800
Ch. III. 1800
Ch. IV. 1801-1803
Ch. V. 1802-1803
Ch. VI. 1804-1806
Ch. VII. 1806-1811
Ch. VIII. 1811-1814
Ch. IX. 1812-1819
Ch. X. 1819-1824
Ch. XI. 1824-1832
Ch. XII. 1832-1836
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Sir,—You will, if you think proper, insert the inclosed in your paper, and subscribe it with my name. It is an unexaggerated statement of what I think of the character of our lately deceased Minister, taken in a single point of view. In writing it, I have dismissed from my mind all temporary feelings of regret, and expressed myself with the severity and plainness of a distant posterity. I have nothing to do with Administration, and have scarcely a slight acquaintance with a few of its Members. My character, such as it is, and my disposition, are subjects of notoriety; and every one capable of judging righteous judgment, has a tolerably sound idea respecting them. Perhaps then even my
testimony, individual and uninfluenced as it necessarily is, may not be an unacceptable tribute to the memory of the great man we deplore.—I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

W. Godwin.
London, October 21, 1806.


Charles James Fox was for thirty-two years a principal leader in the debates and discussions of the English House of Commons. The eminent transactions of his life lay within those walls; and so many of his countrymen as were accustomed to hear his speeches there, or have habitually read the abstracts which have been published of them, are in possession of the principal materials by which this extraordinary man is to be judged.

Fox is the most illustrious model of a Parliamentary Leader, on the side of liberty, that this country has produced. This character is the appropriate glory of England, and Fox is the proper example of this character.

“England has been called, with great felicity of conception, ‘The land of liberty and good sense.’ We have preserved many of the advantages of a free people, which the nations of the Continent have long since lost. Some of them have made wild and intemperate sallies for the recovery of all those things which are most valuable to man in society, but their efforts have not been attended with the happiest success. There is a sobriety in the English people, particularly in accord with the possession of freedom. We are somewhat slow, and somewhat silent; but beneath this outside we have much of reflection, much of firmness, a consciousness of power and of worth, a spirit of frank-dealing and plain-speaking, and a moderate and decent sturdiness of temper not easily to be deluded or subdued.

“For thirty-two years Fox hardly ever opened his mouth in Parliament but to assert, in some form or other, the cause of liberty and mankind, and to repel tyranny in its various shapes, and protest against the encroachments of power. In the American war, in the questions of reform at home, which grew out of the American war, and in the successive scenes which were produced
by the French Revolution, Fox was still found the perpetual advocate of freedom. He endeavoured to secure the privileges and the happiness of the people of Asia and the people of Africa. In Church and State, his principles were equally favourable to the cause of liberty. Englishmen can nowhere find the sentiments of freedom unfolded and amplified in more animated language, or in a more consistent tenor, than in the recorded Parliamentary Debates of Fox. Many have called in question his prudence, and the practicability of his politics in some of their branches; none have succeeded in fixing a stain upon the truly English temper of his heart.

“The reason why Fox so much excelled, in this reign, William Pulteney, and other eminent leaders of Opposition, in the reign of George II. was, that his heart beat in accord to sentiments of liberty. The character of the English nation has improved since the year 1760. The two first Kings of the House of Hanover, did not aspire to the praise of encouragers of English literature, and had no passion for the fine arts; and their minister, Sir Robert Walpole, loved nothing, nor pretended to understand anything, but finance, commerce, and peace. His opponents caught their tone from his, and their debates rather resembled those of the directors of a great trading company, than of men who were concerned with the passions, the morals, the ardent sentiments, and the religion of a generous and enlightened nation. The English seemed fast degenerating into such a people as the Dutch; but Burke and Fox, and other eminent characters not necessary to be mentioned here, redeemed us from the imminent depravity, and lent their efforts to make us the worthy inhabitants of a soil which had produced a Shakespeare, a Bacon, and a Milton.

Fox, in addition to the generous feelings of his heart, possessed, in a supreme degree, the powers of an acute logician. He seized with astonishing rapidity the defects of his antagonist’s argument, and held them up in the most striking point of ridicule. He never misrepresented what his opponent had said, or attacked his accidental oversights, but fairly met and routed him when he thought himself strongest. Though he had at no time studied
law as a profession, he never entered the lists in reasoning with a lawyer that he did not show himself superior to the gowned pleader at his own weapons. It was this singular junction of the best feelings of the human heart, with the acutest powers of the human understanding, that made Fox the wonderful creature he was.

“Let us compare William Pitt in office, and Charles James Fox out of it; and endeavour to decide upon their respective claims to the gratitude of posterity. Pitt was surrounded with all that can dazzle the eye of a vulgar spectator: he possessed the plenitude of power; during a part of his reign, he was as nearly despotic as the minister of a mixed government can be: he dispensed the gifts of the Crown; he commanded the purse of the nation; he wielded the political strength of England. Fox during almost all his life had no part of these advantages.

“It has been said, that Pitt preserved his country from the anarchy and confusion, which from a neighbouring nation threatened to infect us. This is a very doubtful proposition. It is by no means clear that the English people could ever have engaged in so wild, indiscriminate, ferocious, and sanguinary a train of conduct as was exhibited by the people of France. It is by no means clear that the end which Pitt is said to have gained, could not have been accomplished without such bloody wars, such formidable innovations on the liberties of Englishmen, such duplicity, unhallowed dexterity and treachery, and so audacious a desertion of all the principles with which the minister commenced his political life as Pitt employed. Meanwhile, it was the simple, ingenuous and manly office of Fox to protest against the madness and the despotic proceedings of his rival in administration; and, if he could not successfully counteract the measures of Pitt, the honour at least is due to him, to have brought out the English character not fundamentally impaired, in the issue of the most arduous trial it was ever called to sustain.

“The eloquence of these two renowned statesmen well corresponded with the different parts they assumed in public life. The eloquence of Pitt was cold and artificial. The complicated, yet harmonious, structure of his periods, bespoke the man of contriv-
ance and study. No man knew so well as Pitt how to envelope his meaning in a cloud of words, whenever he thought obscurity best adapted to his purpose. No man was so skilful as Pitt to answer the questions of his adversary without communicating the smallest information. He was never taken off his guard. If Pitt ever appeared in some eyes to grow warm as he proceeded, it was with a measured warmth; there were no starts and sallies, and sudden emanations of the soul; he seemed to be as much under the minutest regulation in the most vehement swellings and apostrophes of his speech, as in his coldest calculations.

Fox, as an orator, appeared to come immediately from the forming hand of nature. He spoke well, because he felt strongly and earnestly. His oratory was impetuous as the current of the river Rhone; nothing could arrest its course. His voice would insensibly rise to too high a key; he would run himself out of breath. Everything showed how little artifice there was in his eloquence. Though on all great occasions he was throughout energetic, yet it was by sudden flashes and emanations that he electrified the heart, and shot through the blood of his hearer. I have seen his countenance lighted up with more than mortal ardour and goodness; I have been present when his voice has become suffocated with the sudden bursting forth of a torrent of tears.

“The love of freedom, which marks the public proceedings of Fox, is exactly analogous to the natural temper of his mind; he seemed born for the cause which his talents were employed to support. He was the most unassuming of mankind. He was so far from dictating to others, that it was often imputed to him, though perhaps erroneously, that he suffered others to dictate to him. No man ever existed more simple in his manners, more single-hearted, or less artificial in his carriage. The set phrases of what is called polished life, made no part of his ordinary speech; he courted no man; he practised adulation to none. Nothing was in more diametrical opposition to the affected than the whole of his behaviour. His feelings in themselves, and in the expression of them, were, in the most honourable sense of the word, childlike. Various anecdotes might be related of his innocent and de-
fenceless manners in private and familiar life, which would form the most striking contrast with the vulgar notions of the studied and designing demeanour of a statesman. This was the man that was formed to defend the liberties of Englishmen: his public and his private life are beautiful parts of a consistent whole, and reflect mutual lustre on each other.

“To conclude, Fox is the great ornament of the kingdom of England during the latter part of the eighteenth century. What he did is the due result of the illumination of the present age, and of the character of our ancestors for ages past. Pitt (if I may be excused for mentioning him once again) was merely a statesman, he was formed to seize occasions to possess himself of power, and to act with consummate craft upon every occurrence that arose. He belonged to ancient Carthage—he belonged to modern Italy—but there is nothing in him that expressly belongs to England. Fox, on the contrary—mark how he outshines his rival—how little the acquisition of power adds to the intrinsic character of the man!—is all over English. He is the mirror of the national character for the age in which he lived—its best, its purest, its most honourable representative. No creature that has the genuine feelings of an Englishman, can recollect, without emotions of exultation, the temper, the endowments, and the public conduct of Fox.”