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This article is taken from PN Review 239, Volume 44 Number 3, January - February 2018.

From Chetham's Library
8: Reports of My Death
Michael Powell
THE eighteenth-century Whig politician Charles James Fox is poorly remembered these days. Those of a literary bent will know him for his featuring, or rather his statue’s appearance, in one of MacNeice’s late poems, ‘October in Bloomsbury’:  ‘Though Charles James Fox unconcerned in a bath towel sits on his arse in Bloomsbury Square / While plane tree leaves flop gently down and lodge in his sculptured hair’.

For anyone who has even glanced at Fox’s life and career, it is hard not to fall into a trap of hero worship. Although Fox spent most of his political life on the opposition benches, he was one of the great supporters of liberty, attacking despotism and tyranny wherever he saw it, mostly in the form of George III, whom
he despised. He was a staunch supporter of the independence of the American colonies, even turning up at the House of Commons wearing the buff waistcoat and blue coat of George Washington’s armies, and an early advocate of the French revolution. He was in favour of Catholic emancipation and one of the most vocal anti-slavery campaigners. One of his last acts as an MP was to speak in Parliament in favour of the bill that would result in the abolition of slavery.

But it is for his human rather than for his political qualities that he deserves real admiration. In an age of excess Fox had gargantuan appetites. A remarkable drinker and gambler, he had amassed gambling debts of one hundred and forty thousand pounds by ...


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