A Blupete Biography Page

Charles James Fox

Charles Fox, though he had nothing directly to do with Nova Scotia, looms so large as a man, as a British Statesman, that I cannot pass him by without a few words.

Fox was educated at Eton and then Oxford. Entering parliament during 1768, he was to become a supporter of Lord North. In 1775, the two quarreled and Fox was dismissed from his government position. Thereafter spent his career in opposition. During the troubles with the American colonies, "Fox was the most formidable opponent of the coercive measures of government."1 During the Napoleonic wars, Fox was always on the side of making peace with France, viz. an advocate of non-intervention. Pitt described Fox (they were usually on opposite sides of any question) as the greatest debater the world ever saw. Lord Rosebery was to write:

"Fox was the greatest of all debaters, the most genial of all associates, the most honourable of all friends. He was moreover, after Burke, the most lettered man in politics among a generation that affected literature. His public career had been one of expansion. Beginning life as a Tory, he rebounded briskly into the ranks of Whiggery and ultimately of Radicalism. ... Wherever he saw what he believed to be oppression, he took part with the oppressed -- the American, the Irishman, the Negro: he could not side with what he thought wrong against what he thought right, even though they who seemed to him in the right were the enemies of his country. ...
His fatal defect as a statesman was want of judgment: he was vehement, passionate, carried away by the impulse of the day, without a thought of the morrow, still less of the day after. ...
... he stands forth as the negation of cant and humbug, a character valuable then, invaluable now; as an intellectual Titan; and as the quick and visible embodiment of every lovable quality in man."2
The historian, George Otto Trevelyan was to write of Charles Fox. What struck Trevelyan was Fox's
"frankness and friendliness, the inexhaustible good-nature, the indescribable charm of manner, and the utter absence of self importance and self-consciousness, which combined to make him, at every period of his existence, the best fellow in the world. He never misrepresented what his opponent had said, or attacked his accidental oversights, but fairly met and routed him where he thought himself strongest.
He wasted no time in preliminary skirmishes, but flung himself upon the key of his adversary's position, pouring in his arguments as a fighting general hurries up his successive waves of reinforcements in the crisis of a battle. Intent on convincing, he reiterated the substance of his case in fresh forms, and with new illustrations, until the stupidest of his hearers had caught his full meaning; while the cleverest, and the most fastidious, never complained that Charles Fox spoke too long, or repeated himself too often. ...
Fox habitually dealt with solid realities; and, -- while he never consciously arranged the sequence of his topics, or troubled himself about the form of a sentence until he was half-way through with it, -- he always took infinite pains to have his facts correct. Moreover his nature was such that he instinctively refrained from using in controversy any argument which he himself did not believe to be just and weighty ; and his fairness and sincerity carried persuasion to others."
We add, in conclusion, that Fox was "a fast liver, addicted to gambling and drinking": he died a relatively young man.4

[1] Chambers Biographical Dictionary, Edinburgh. (This work is often referred to simply as Chambers in these pages.)

[2] Pitt (London: MacMillan, 1891) at pp. 28-33.

[3] (George The Third and Charles Fox (London: Longmans, Green; 1912), vol 1., at pp. 95, 40 & 95.)

[4] I refer the reader to William Hazlitt's essay on Fox: "Character of Mr Fox".


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Peter Landry
2012 (2020)