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This extraordinary man of genius, “ bred a statesman, and born a wit,” dates from the 11th of April, 1770, in the parish of Marylebone, London. His descent, on the paternal side, was from an ancient family, his ancestors having figured at different periods at Bristol, in Warwickshire, and in Ireland. Canning's father died in 1771, when his son was only a year old. He was interred in the cemetery on the south side of Paddington Street, and his tomb bore this inscription, written by his widow :
“Thy virtue, and my woe, no words can tell ;
Therefore, a little while, my George, farewell !
Its last best gift—to meet and part no more.” The means of defraying young Canning's education were furnished by his paternal uncle, in the City of London; but some slight funds are also said to have proceeded from a small estate in Ireland, which fell to him. He was first sent to Hyde Abbey School, near Winchester, whence he was removed to Eton. He had begun to write English verses when very young; and at Eton, in his sixteenth year, he started a periodical called the Microcosm, which was published at Windsor, weekly, for nine months; the second number wa written by Mr. Canning : he wrote twelve papers in all, principally of a humorous or satirical cast; and his articles, in their elegance and wit, foreshadowed the future man. The Microcosm provoked the Westminster boys to commence the Trifler. In their first number they prefixed a caricature
representing Justice in the act of weighing their merits against the Etonians, the latter being aloft, while their rivals rested on the ground. Young Canning took his pen, and thus interpreted the symbol :
“ What mean ye by this print so rare,
Ye wits-of Eton jealous-
And ye are heavy fellows ?” In the autumn of 1797, Mr. Canning, in conjunction with Mr. John Hookham Frere, Mr. Jenkinson, Mr. George Ellis, Lord Clare, Lord Mornington, and one or two other social and political friends, started the paper called The Anti-Jacobin, the object of which was to attack the journalists, and other writers of the day, who advocated or were supposed to advocate the doctrines of the French Revolution. Mr. Giffard was appointed editor of this weekly paper; but Mr. Canning wrote the prospectus, and from its commencement, in November, 1797, to its close, in 1798, he contributed to it largely. Some of the best poetry, burlesques, and jeux d'esprit were from his pen, as will be seen in future pages.
In October, 1787, Mr. Canning was entered as a student of Christ Church, Oxford, where he gained some academical honours by his Latin poetry, and cultivated that talent for oratory which he had begun to display at Eton. On leaving Oxford, he went to study at Lincoln's Inn, but soon gave up the law for the political career that was opening to him. He had, however, nigh adopted the stage. Mrs. Canning, through the influence of Queen Charlotte, was introduced by Garrick to the stage, as her profession, and she subsequently married Reddish, the actor. Meanwhile, her son George had become the associate of actors of a low class, from which influence he was rescued by Moody, the comedian, who stated the boy's case to Mr. Stratford Canning, and thus opened the road by which he advanced to power and fame.
At Oxford, Mr. Canning made the acquaintance of Mr. Jenkinson, afterwards Earl of Liverpool, who is supposed to have been of service to him in the political career on which Canning entered immediately after leaving college. Nor did he neglect to mingle with the world while cultivating the graces of oratory. He renewed his acquaintance with the young men with whom he had studied at Eton and Oxford, and became acquainted with Sheridan and Fox at the table of his uncle, who was one of the most strenuous friends of the notorious John Wilkes.
His college vacations were usually passed in the house of Sheridan, who introduced him to Burke, Fox, Lord John Townsend, the Duchess of Devonshire, and other leading Whig partisans. He is thought to have given up the law by the advice of Sheridan, whose political opinions it was expected he would have adopted, and have joined the opposition; but Canning accepted the proposals of the Tory party, and was brought into Parliament by Mr. Pitt in 1793. This preference is thought to have arisen from Canning's having seen “the difficulties which even genius like his would experience in rising to the full growth of its ambition under the shadowy branches of the Whig aristocracy, and that superseding influence of birth and connexions which had contributed to keep such ones as Burke and Sheridan out of the cabinet.”—(Moore's Life of Sheridan.) Mr. Pitt found Canning a powerful ally; and during his absence from power was much indebted to Canning's friendship in writing the song of “The Pilot that weathers the Storm,” which became exceedingly popular.
As soon as by trial Pitt had tested the quality of his young recruit, he placed him in active service, and left him to bear the brunt of some formidable attacks. Canning enjoyed and grew under this discipline, and found wit and eloquence equal to all demands.
Mr. Canning's first care was to make himself well acquainted with the forms and usages of the House of Commons; and he prudently refrained from speaking during the first session that he sat in Parliament. In January, 1794, he first ventured to address the House, and, although he rather too obviously imitated the style and manner of Mr. Burke, he showed such power as commanded respect and general attention. During that session, and the session of 1795, Mr. Canning spoke frequently, and, occasionally, was left by Mr. Pitt to bear the brunt of formidable debate. At this time he supported the temporary suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, and declared himself against Parliamentary reform. In 1796, Mr. Canning became Under Secretary of State, and, at the general election in that year, he was returned for the Treasury borough of Wendover, Bucks.
When the subject of the Irish Union was brought before Parliament, Mr. Canning repeatedly spoke at great length, and