J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, September 04, 2017

“All those parts and fire are extinguished”

On 24 Aug 1767, the British politician Thomas Whately wrote to former boss George Grenville about gossip he’d heard from yet another Member of Parliament, Grey Cooper:
He told me that the Chancellor of the Exchequer [Charles Townshend, shown here] having been not well of a long time, and he observing that he looked still worse a few days ago, he advised Lady Greenwich [Townshend’s wife, made a baroness just days before] to send for a physician;

she at first said that Mr. Townshend’s disorder was only lowness of spirits; but at last called in Sir William Duncan [doctor to King George III], who has pronounced it to be a slow fever of the putrid kind; from which he does not apprehend any danger at present, but says that it is a disorder liable to so many accidents that he cannot answer for the event.

Mr. Townshend yesterday kept his bed, but I believe rather because he was desired than because he was obliged to do so.
The fever turned out to be more dangerous than Dr. Duncan guessed. Two hundred fifty years ago today, Townshend died.

Late that month, Horace Walpole reacted:
But our comet is set too! Charles Townshend is dead. All those parts and fire are extinguished; those volatile salts are evaporated; that first eloquence of the world is dumb! that duplicity is fixed, that cowardice terminated heroically. He joked on death as naturally as he used to do on the living, and not with the affectation of philosophers, who wind up their works with sayings which they hope to have remembered. With a robust person he had always a menacing constitution. He had had a fever the whole summer, recovered as it was thought, relapsed, was neglected, and it turned to an incurable putrid fever.

The Opposition expected that the loss of this essential pin would loosen the whole frame [i.e., bring down the government]; but it had been hard, if both his life and death were to be pernicious to the Administration. He had engaged to betray the latter to the former, as I knew early, and as Lord Mansfield has since declared. I therefore could not think the loss of him a misfortune. His seals were immediately offered to Lord North, who declined them. The Opposition rejoiced; but they ought to have been better acquainted with one educated in their own school. Lord North has since accepted the seals—and the reversion of his father’s pension.

While that eccentric genius, Charles Townshend, whom no system could contain, is whirled out of existence, our more artificial meteor, Lord Chatham, seems to be wheeling back to the sphere of business—at least his health is declared to be re-established; but he has lost his adorers, the mob, and I doubt the wise men will not travel after his light.
Townshend’s program for raising revenue from the American colonies, the Townshend duties, was due to go into effect on 20 November. Now the architect of that policy was gone.

TOMORROW: Assessing Charles Townshend.


Anonymous said...

So he lived about two weeks after being pronounced merely convalescent. Is it known what his illness was?

J. L. Bell said...

“Putrid fever” is the usual label, echoing Walpole. I don’t think there are enough details for a modern physician to make a clearer diagnosis.

In Dr. Duncan’s defense, he did say the condition was “a disorder liable to so many accidents” that he couldn’t guarantee his prognosis.