The Biography of William Pitt the Younger (1759-1806)

The Biography of William Pitt the Younger (1759-1806)
From The Dictionary of National Biography – Volume 15, 1909

William Pitt the Younger
William Pitt the Younger

PITT, WILLIAM (1759-1806), statesman, second son of  William Pitt, first earl of Chatham q. v., and Hester, daughter of Richard Grenville, was born at Hayes, near Bromley, Kent; on 28 May 1759. As a child he was precocious and eager, and at seven years old looked forward to following in his father’s steps (Chatham Correspondence, ii. 393-4). His health being extremely delicate, he was educated at home. His father took much interest in his studies, preparing him to excel as an orator by setting him to translate verbally, and at sight, passages from Greek and Latin authors, and hearing him recite. When thirteen years old he composed a tragedy ‘Laurentino, King of Chersonese’ which he and his brothers and sisters acted at his father’s house. It is extant in manuscript.

The plot is political, and there is no love in it.  At fourteen, when he knew more than most lads of eighteen, he matriculated at Cambridge, entering Pembroke Hall in the spring of 1773, and going into residence the following October. He was put under the care of the Rev, George Pretyman, afterwards Tomline q.v., one of the tutors. Soon afterwards a serious illness compelled his return home, and he remained there until the next July. Dr. Anthony Addington fq. v. recommended a copious use of port wine. The remedy was successful, and at eighteen his health was established. For two years and a half he lived at Cambridge, with little or no society save that of his tutor, Pretyman. He studied Latin and Greek diligently, and showed a taste for mathematics; but of modern literature he read little, and of modern languages knew only French. In the spring of 1770 he graduated M.A. without examination, and towards the end of the year began to mix with other young men. He was excellent company, cheerful, witty, and well-bred. While still residing at Cambridge, he often went to hear debates in parliament, and on one of these occasions was introduced to Charles James Fox q, v., who was struck by his eager comments on the arguments of the different speakers (Stanhope, Life, i, 27). He was present at his father’s last speech in the House of Lords on 7 April 1778, and helped to carry the earl from the chamber. On his father’s death he was left with an income of less than 300l. a year, and, intending to practise law, began to keep terms at Lincoln’s Inn, though he lived for the most part at Cambridge. In the following October he published an answer to a letter from Lord Mountstuart with reference to his father’s political conduct (Ann. Reg. 1778, xxi. 257-61). He was called to the bar on 12 June 1780, and in August went the western circuit. At the general election in September he stood for the university of Cambridge, and was at the bottom of tho poll. Sir James Lowther, however, caused him to be elected at Appleby, and he took his seat on 23 Jan. 1781. Amoung his closest friends were Edward Eliot (afterwards his brother-in-law), Richard Pepper Arden (afterwards lord Alvanley), and Wilburforce, to their company he was always full of life and gaiety. At first he gambled a little, but gave it up on finding that the excitement was absorbing; for he resolved to allow nothing to hinder him from giving his whole mind to the service of his country.