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An interesting speech

Recently in my reading, I came across this speech by William Pitt the Elder in reply to Horatio Walpole in the House of Commons in the UK in 1741. I am sure your readers will find it interesting in light of recent events in Barbados.

— Baba Elombe Mottley


It was during a debate on search warrants for seamen that the famous altercation took place between Mr. William Pitt and Horatio Walpole, in which the latter endeavoured to put down the young orator by representing him as having too little experience to justify his discussing such subjects, and charging him with “petulancy of invective”, “pompous diction”, and “theatrical emotion”.

Sit, The atrocious crime of being a young man, which the honourable gentleman has, with such spirit and decency, charged upon me, I shall neither attempt to palliate nor deny, but content myself with wishing that I may be one of those whose follies may cease with their youth, and not of that number who are ignorant in spite of experience.

Whether youth can be imputed to any man as a reproach, I will not, sir, assume the province of determining; but surely age may become justly contemptible, if the opportunities which it brings have passed away without improvement, and vice appears to prevail when the passions have subsided.

The wretch who, after having seen the consequences of a thousand errors, continues still to blunder, and whose age has only added obstinacy to stupidity, is surely the object of either abhorrence or contempt, and deserves not that his gray hairs should secure him from insult.

Much more, sir, is he to be abhorred, who, as he has advanced in age, has receded from virtue, and becomes more wicked with less temptation; who prostitutes himself for money which he cannot enjoy, and spends the remains of his life in the ruin of his country.

But youth, sir, is not my only crime; I have been accused of acting a theatrical part. A theatrical part may either imply some peculiarities of gesture, or a dissimulation of my real sentiments, and an adoption of the opinions and language of another man.

In the first sense, sir, the charge is too trifling to be confuted, and deserves only to be mentioned to be despised. I am at liberty, like every other man, to use my own language; and though, perhaps, I may have some ambition to please this gentleman, I shall not lay myself under any restraint, nor very solicitously copy his diction or his mien, however matured by age, or modelled by experience.

If any man shall, by charging me with theatrical behaviour, imply that I utter any sentiments but my own, I shall treat him as a calumniator and a villain; nor shall any protection shelter him from the treatment he deserves.

I shall, on such an occasion, without scruple, trample upon all those forms with which wealth and dignity intrench themselves; nor shall anything but age restrain my resentment — age, which always brings one privilege, that of being insolent and supercilious without punishment.

But with regard, sir, to those whom I have offended, I am of opinion, that if I had acted a borrowed part, I should have avoided their censure. The heat that offended them is the ardour of conviction, and that zeal for the service of my country which neither hope nor fear shall influence me to suppress.

I will not sit unconcerned while my liberty is invaded, nor look in silence upon public robbery. I will exert my endeavours, at whatever hazard, to repel the aggressor, and drag the thief to justice, whoever may protect them in their villainy, and whoever may partake of their plunder.

At this point Mr. Pitt was called to order by Mr. Wynnington, who went on to say:

“No diversity of opinion can justify the violation of decency, and the use of rude and virulent expressions, dictated only by resentment, and uttered without regard to…

Sir, if this be to preserve order, there is no danger of indecency from the most licentious tongues. For what calumny can be more atrocious, what reproach more severe, than that of speaking with regard to anything but truth. Order may sometimes be broken by passion or inadvertency, but will hardly be re-established by a monitor like this, who cannot govern his own passions while he is restraining the impetuosity of others.

Happy would it be for mankind if everyone knew his own province. We should not then see the same man at once a criminal and a judge; nor would this gentleman assume the right of dictating to others what he has not learned himself.

That I may return in some degree the favour he intends me, I will advise him never hereafter to exert himself on the subject of order; but whenever he feels inclined to speak on such occasions, to remember how he has now succeeded, and condemn in silence what his censures will never amend.

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