Greatest Genius

Frances Harris

  • Charles James Fox by L.G Mitchell
    Oxford, 338 pp, £25.00, June 1992, ISBN 0 19 820104 4

Charles James Fox was early hailed as ‘the phenomenon of the age’: an Infant Phenomenon like his chief opponent and perfect foil, William Pitt, who, Fox’s mother is said to have predicted, would be ‘a thorn in Charles’s side as long as he lives’. David Hume, encountering Fox at 16 during one of his formative visits to Paris, was startled by his intellectual power and maturity and already foresaw him as ‘a very great acquisition to the publick’, if the lure of a life of cosmopolitan dissipation, already strong on him, did not distract him. Fox calmly agreed with this estimate of his potential, but refused to give an absolute promise that he would fulfil his family’s ambitions for him. These alternatives of private pleasure and public life continued to divide his attention, and for many years to come his ‘three favourite pursuits’, as a friend noted, were to be ‘gaming, politics, women’, more or less in that order.

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