I am going through all my MSS notes and trying to track down certain references. At the same time I have been finding all sorts of fun and interesting stuff. The following, for example, consists of snippets and summaries from the correspondence of George Rose, one of Pitt’s Secretaries to the Treasury and a close political associate, to George Pretyman, Bishop of Lincoln.
The subject of the correspondence was the death of Pitt’s brother-in-law Edward James Eliot at the age of 39. Eliot had married Pitt’s sister Harriot in 1785, but she died in childbirth in 1786. Eliot had known Pitt since they had been at Pembroke College together and was one of his oldest and closest friends. His death knocked Pitt for six at a time when he was already feeling the strain of the war with France: 1797 was not a good year for the British war effort.
Rose was with Pitt when he first heard the news of Eliot’s unexpected death. He detailed Pitt’s reaction in a letter to Pretyman, dated 20 September 1797:
“The Effect produced by the Event on him is not to be described; the suddenness of the Blow aggravated the Misfortune, he received the Account by the common Post in a Letter from Lord Eliot [Eliot’s father] not knowing the writing; no Circumstances whatever mention’d, but the Event must have been sudden as Mr Pitt told me last Night the latest Accounts were extremely favourable, & Mr Carthew [Pitt’s secretary] who returned to Town last night says our poor Friend had been remarkably well latterly.
I found Mr Pitt last Monday at Holwood with Lord & Lady Chatham, complaining of a Head Ach which had tormented him for a Fortnight, some Degree of Cold, & a Loss of Appetite; I therefore prevailed with him to see Sir Walter Farquhar [his physician] which I hope he will do this Evening. I suppress’d my own Feelings all I could to avoid working his, to say that I am griev’d to my Heart for the Loss we have sustain’d is an Expression far, very far, short of the real Impression made on me by it. I pity Mr Pitt with my whole soul & I lament most unaffectedly the loss of one of the very best Men I have met with in my Intercourse with Mankind”.
The next letter, 22 September 1797, continued to describe the effect of Eliot’s death on Pitt’s health:
“I was in so much real Agitation of Mind yesterday that I do not know whether I mentioned to you my having prevail’d with Mr Pitt the Day before to allow me to send for Sir Walter Farquhar in consequence of which I had appointed him to come last Night. Towards the Evening he grew Sick & reached [retched] violently, after which he was better; Sir Walter came to him about 9, he says he is quite clear about the Case & is sure he can do his Patient effectual Good, that there is much Gout in it [….sorry, but this is a typical Sir Walter diagnosis]. Mr Pitt could not of course go to St James’s yesterday & will therefore stay for the Levee on Wednesday next, after which I trust he will immediately go to Walmer … He feels anxious about the Removal of the little Girl [his niece, Eliot’s daughter Harriot Hester] to Burton, & yet the State of his Mother’s Health makes her being there at Present a Matter of Anxiety. … I did not leave Mr Pitt yesterday, & while I can afford him any Sort of Consolation I shall not think of going anywhere else. He is much better to-day.”
By 26 September Pitt was feeling much better, but was under a fair amount of anxiety over what to do with his orphaned niece Harriot Hester. According to Rose it looked like Eliot had not left a will, although this did turn up later. Pitt, as usual, turned to his usual method of burying pain:
“Mr Pitt continues much better than when I found him here a week ago; his Mind has been diverted from the melancholy Subject by an almost unremitting Attention to the imortant Business of providing the Means of carrying on the War”.
I do find it quite amazing that so many of his friends found it normal to see him dealing with grief and ill health by immersing himself in overwork. I suppose they were used to it by then and it represented a sign that Pitt had returned to normality. Also … probably better than drowning his sorrows in port.
All quotations from Ipswich RO Pretyman Papers HA 119/T108/44