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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Fox, Charles James (1749 — 1806)

A politician regarded in Burns's day as the supporter of liberty for the people, and the opponent of Tory junta oppression. Fox enjoyed periods of popularity, which he lost again owing to his coalition with North, his support of the India Bill, and on its rejection, his attempts to prevent an appeal to the country.

Burns mentions him in 'A Dream', a satire based upon a pompous official birthday 'Laureate's Ode' by the then Poet Laureate, Thomas Wharton. Burns addresses the future George IV.

"For you, young Potentate of Wales,
I tell your Highness fairly,
Down Pleasure's stream, wi' swelling sails,
I'm tauld ye're driving rarely: [rapidly
But some day ye may gnaw your nails,
An' curse your folly sairly,
That e'er ye brak Diana's pales [broke the bounds of chastity
Or rattl'd dice wi' Charlie
By night or day."

'Charlie' was the 3rd son of Henry Fox, later Baron Holland of Foxley. While at Eton, his father took him to the Continent, teaching him gambling habits which he never lost, and which sometimes reduced him to poverty. He had a wide knowledge of world literature and art, and was a man of taste whose critical faculty was always acute. Despite his stoutness, he never lost his interest in energetic sports. A distinguished orator, he was an even more vigorous debater, although he lacked some of the qualities necessary for a great statesman. The violence of his language constantly stood in the way of his career.

Most of his time in Parliament was necessarily spent in opposition to the Government. He was returned for Midhurst, Susex, before he was 20, the seat being bought by his father and uncle. On his father's instructions, he supported the policies of the Duke of Grafton. Shortly afterwards, he joined Lord North's administration as a Lord of the Admiralty, and as a result of his zealousness for privilege and his efforts against the freedom of the Press, he became very unpopular. He was attacked and rolled in the mud by the mob, who, however, reversed their view of him when he left the Tory party and joined Rockingham and the Whigs. His later misjudgments of the political scene practically ruined the Whig party.

He was strongly opposed to the American War of Independence, which was favoured by Lord North; he applauded the revolt of the French soldiers against their officers at the time of the Revolution, to join the people in their struggle for liberty; he was strongly in favour of abolishing the slave trade; attacked the maladministration of the Navy; and wanted shorter Parliaments to limit the Crown's influence, to which he attributed most of the country's misfortunes. He was a close friend of the Prince of Wales, and this was one of the reasons why he was so hated by George III, who blamed Fox for teaching his son the gambling habit. Despite his position of enfant terrible, he had great charm and wit.

During Pitt's administration, Lord Cockburn recorded in his Memorials, Fox's birthday was: 'generally celebrated by a dinner every year. But only a very few of the best Whigs could be got to attend, or were wished for. It was not safe to have many, especially as great prudence was necessary in speaking and toasting. Yet even the select, though rarely exceeding a dozen or two, were seldom allowed to assemble without Sheriff's Officers being sent down the names of those who entered.'

On Pitt's death in 1806, Fox became Foreign Secretary in Grenville's administration, but died of dropsy before his vigorous opposition to Napoleon could be translated into action. He is buried in Westminster Abbey, near Pitt.

Dr Johnson said of Fox: 'Fox divided the Kingdom with Caesar, so that it was a doubt whether the nation should be ruled by the sceptre of George III or the tongue of Fox.'

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Complete Burns Songs

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