As the title says, really.
I have precisely one day a week entirely set aside for writing—Thursday—and here I am setting up a Tumblr blog. Oh well.
Actually I am trying to clear my mind a bit for a novel reboot, so I might as well try and sort out my thoughts here.
The Long Shadow, for the uninitiated, is (will be?) a historical novel dealing with the relationship between William Pitt the Younger and his older brother John, Second Earl of Chatham. It should probably be the other way round, actually, as the story is told from John’s perspective. I do not pretend that I am not on first-name terms with my exalted subjects, but then reading their private correspondence makes me feel almost like we are friends. (That, or I am a stalker, but I prefer the first version.)
History remembers Pitt the Younger as Britain’s youngest prime minister (aged 24!); he is also the second longest serving (17 continuous years, 19 in all) and reputed to be one of the best. His short but incredibly busy life (1759-1806) was almost entirely encompassed by the reign of one monarch, George III. He took office in 1783, just after the end of the war with America, and masterminded the first half of the wars against revolutionary France. He is the subject of a number of biographies, with John Ehrman’s three volume opus at the academic end of the scale and William Hague’s entertaining work at the popular end. He has appeared in movies, novels, plays, TV series…. oh, you name it. He even has a Facebook page. Perhaps more than one.
And the Second Earl of Chatham? “What, you mean there was more than one?” Exactly…
I won’t go into the reasons why I find John so interesting now, although when I do I hope my enthusiasm will be catchy. I do feel incredibly sorry for him, as I think history has dealt him a rather unfortunate hand. He had an incredibly famous father and an incredibly famous brother; if that wasn’t bad enough, his own personal talents have been completely overshadowed by the disastrous expedition to Walcheren in 1809 (which he generalled) and by a not entirely undeserved reputation for sloth. Yet he was a long-serving cabinet minister, in office from 1788 until the Walcheren disaster, and when he chose to apply himself did so diligently enough.
As Sir Tresham Lever wrote in The House of Pitt (London, 1947, pp. 360-1): “The son of one genius and the elder brother of another, life must have brought him many disappointments; the heir to honours won by another and to an estate impaired and altogether inadequate to support the high rank his father had bequeathed him, his life must have been one long burden”. As sympathetic as this estimate seems, Lever goes on to describe him as “vain, pompous, stupid”, “the most stupid and useless of the Pitts”.
Poor John! Poor, poor John! I can only hope that I can help rectify that impression somewhat.
And on that note, I should return to what I should be doing….