Myth, Reality and William Pitt the Younger

R. E. Foster examines the career of Pitt the Younger.

In Britannia between Death and the Doctor's (1804), Gillray caricatured Pitt as a doctor kicking Addington (the previous doctor) out of Britannia's sickroom.William Pitt is, in some respects, an unlikely political icon. A delicate child, he was described as a man by H. A. Bruce as a ‘tall, ungainly, bony figure’. Pitt was a satirist’s gift. The best known, James Gillray, also captured the aloofness that many remembered. In an age where personal contacts mattered, Pitt was not clubbable. As William Wilberforce, a rare exception, put it, ‘Pitt does not make friends.’ He preferred to immerse himself in the details of commerce and finance – matters which Wilberforce dismissed as ‘subjects of a low and vulgarising quality’. But only Walpole has served longer as prime minister. How is Pitt’s longevity and achievement to be explained?

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