CHARLES JAMES FOX by John W. Derry

CHARLES JAMES FOX

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A harsh political biography of the great 18th century Whig with a heavily Namierite cast. Derry follows his parliamentary career from the feckless Toryism of his youth to the Rockingham connection and opposition to the American Revolution to his political collapse during the Napoleonic wars. At each turn he firmly dispels the martyr-of-English-Liberalism mystique in which 19th century historians enveloped him. Always attentive to the anti-democratic strains in Fox's political philosophy -- ""I pay no regard whatever to the voice of the people"" -- Derry sees him from first to last as ""unrepentant in arguing the sacrosanctity of parliamentary privilege,"" a pragmatist rather than an ideologue who was driven into cantankerous opposition by faulty political calculation, not high moral principle. The resistance to political disabilities against Catholics and Dissenters, the tearful break with Burke over the French Revolution, the fiery oratory against Pitt's sedition laws, and the political leadership of the electoral reform movement are all reduced to expediency fueled by ambition and the exigencies of parliamentary coalitions, i.e. the Namierite norms of 18th century politics. And his personal profligacy, gambling, vanity, and self-pity are highlighted for good measure. A revisionist view of Fox was inevitable and Derry's is as subtle as it is deflating. It should spark immediate rebuttals in academic circles.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1972
Publisher: St. Martin's Press