(No reference to Stephen King’s Misery to be made here.)
“In truth Pitt’s brother was no ordinary man. He was very clear-headed, possessed excellent judgment and great firmness of character. In the Cabinet, where he seldom spoke until others had finished speaking, his counsel was sound, independent, and weighty to a remarkable degree. At the Office of Ordnance his administration brought the British Artillery up to a pitch of excellence unknown until his day. His great fault was an incurable indolence, and an unpunctuality which gained for him the nickname of the late Lord Chatham”.
(J.W. Fortescue, History of the British Army volume 7, pp. 54-5)
Always good to know I’m not the only person who thinks Chatham was not utterly useless— even if Fortescue’s main source above is the throwaway comment from Lord Eldon I had previously mentioned:
“Speaking of public men, Lord Eldon said, ‘The ablest man I ever knew in the cabinet, was Lord Chatham. He sat apparently inattentive to what was going on ; but when his turn came to deliver his opinion, he toppled over all the others.’ (I particularly observed his use of the word toppled.)”
(Horace Twiss, The Public and Private Life of Lord Eldon, p. 326: read it here)
Fortescue, of course, was a military historian with a notorious bias towards the land forces and against the navy. This rather helps in his assessment of Chatham, whose performance at Walcheren (an amphibious campaign undermined by lack of communication between the army and navy) is certainly not condemned: “I cannot see that Chatham, in spite of his notorious indolence, showed inactivity or want of judgment; nor do I believe that any man in his place would have acted otherwise than he did” (Fortescue, p. 95). Sir Richard Strachan, the naval commander, is on the other hand roundly castigagted. 😉 I’d say that Fortescue’s agenda in favour of the army is speaking here at least in part, but it is nice to have a military man’s opinion in support of my theory that John was not the useless idiot he is often portrayed to be.
As he is, for example, in the following caricature by George Cruickshank:
I think the less said about this the better, but it is definitely the *least flattering* caricature of John I have ever seen (… and I’ve only seen about five in total…)