King George III (1760-1820)
Honourable Mr Fox : The colourful Foreign Secretary humbly accepted a lesson in manners from a local tradesman.
Honourable Mr Fox

Abridged from Character by Samuel Smiles (1812-1904).

Charles James Fox (1749-1806) was a larger-than-life statesman in the time of King George III. He supported the revolutionaries of France and America, frequently changed political sides, kept a mistress (whom he secretly married in 1795), gambled to excess, and campaigned against slavery – a maddening blend of rascal and man of honour.

IT was truly said of Sheridan — who, with all his improvidence, was generous, and never gave pain — that,*

“His wit in the combat, as gentle as bright,
Never carried a heart-stain away on its blade.”

Such also was the character of Fox, who could always be most easily touched on the side of his honour.

The story is told of a tradesman calling upon him one day for the payment of a promissory note which he presented. Fox was engaged at the time in counting out gold. The tradesman asked to be paid from the money before him. “No,” said Fox, “I owe this money to Sheridan; it is a debt of honour; if any accident happened to me, he would have nothing to show.”

“Then,” said the tradesman, “I change my debt into one of honour;” and he tore up the note. Fox was conquered: he thanked the man for his confidence, and paid him, saying, “Then Sheridan must wait; yours is the debt of older standing.”

* Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751–1816) was an Irish playwright, theatrical manager, and Secretary of the Treasury in the government of William Cavendish Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland. Bentinck was however running the country in name only; the real power lay with Home Secretary Lord North and Foreign Secretary Charles Fox.

Abridged from Character by Samuel Smiles (1812-1904).

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Picture: By James Gillray. From the National Portrait Gallery, via Wikimedia Commons. View original
‘Homer Singing his Verses to his Greeks’ is a satirical sketch by James Gillray (1757-1815), showing poet Charles Morris (left) regaling theatrical manager and playwright Richard Sheridan and politician Charles James Fox with bawdy songs by request, at a meeting of The Sublime Society of Beef Steaks – as we can see from that exclusive club’s official dress code of blue coats, buff waistcoats and brass buttons etched with the stirring sentiment ‘Beef and Liberty’. At various times members included Dr Johnson, William Hogarth and the Prince of Wales (later King George IV).
By Samuel Smiles
By George Canning MP

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