1902 Encyclopedia > Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford

Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford
English man of letters

HORACE WALPOLE (1717-1797), who was bora on 24th September 1717, was accepted and recognized throughout his life as the youngest of the five children of Sir Robert Walpole by Catherine Shorter, but by some of the scandal-mongers of a later age, Carr, Lord Hervey, the half-brother of the peer who wrote the Memoirs of the Court of George the Second, has been called his father. This parentage has been assigned to him partly through the circumstance that the first wife of Sir Robert Walpole lived for some time estranged from her husband and on terms of friendship with Carr, Lord Hervey, not the least clever or unprincipled member of a family notorious for ability and for laxity of morals, and partly through the antagonism of the qualities shown by Horace Walpole to those of the prime minister, and through their affinity with the talents of the Herveys. If this rumour be correct, no such suspicion ever entered into the mind of Horace Walpole. To his mother he erected a monument, with an inscription couched in terms of sincere affection, in the chapel of Henry VII. in Westminster Abbey, and from the beginning to the end of his life his sarcasms never spared the Newcastles and the Hardwickes, who had shown, as he thought, lukewarmness in support of his father's ministry. About 1728 he was sent to Eton, and in 1735 matriculated at King's College, Cambridge. Two years (1739-41) were spent in the recognized grand ^our of France and Italy, in company with Gray the poet, whose acquaintance had been made amid the classic groves of Eton and Cambridge. They stopped a few weeks in Paris, and lingered for three months under the shadow of the magnificent portals of the cathedral of Rheims, on the pretence of learning the French language. Henry Seymour Conway, whose mother was a sister of Lady Walpole, shared their society in the French city, and retained Horace Walpole's warm friendship during life. The other two members of this little circle next proceeded to Florence, where Walpole rested for more than a year in the villa of Horace Mann, the British envoy-extraordinary for forty-six

years to the court of Tuscany. Mann's family had long been on terms of the closest intimacy with his guests, as Robert Mann was concerned in the contract for which Sir Robert Walpole was expelled from the House of Commons in 1712, and the envoy continued the correspondent of Walpole until 1786, for as they never met again their friendship remained unbroken. At Reggio Walpole and Gray parted in resentment. The latter was shy in manners and absorbed in literature, while his more opulent com-panion lived in society, and only dabbled in antiquities for pleasure's sake. Walpole in after years took the blame of these differences on himself, and it is gene-rally believed that the quarrel arose from his laying too much stress on his superiority in position. In 1744 the two friends were nominally reconciled, but the breach was not cemented.
During Walpole's absence he was returned to parliament in 1741 for the Cornish borough of Callington, over which his elder brother, through his marriage with the heiress of the Rolles, exercised supreme influence. He represented three constituencies in succession, Callington 1741-54, the family borough of Castle Rising from 1754 to 1757, and the more important constituency of King's Lynn, for which his father had long sat in parliament, from the latter date until 1768. In that year he retired, probably because his success in political life had not equalled his expectations, but he continued until the end of his days to follow and to chronicle the acts and the speeches of both Houses of Parliament. Through his father's influence he had ob-tained three lucrative sinecures producing at least £5000 a year, and for many years (1745-84) he enjoyed a share, estimated at about £1500 a year, of a second family per-quisite, the collectorship of customs. The possession of these ample endowments and of a leasehold house in Arlington Street, which was left to him by his father, enabled him, a bachelor all his days, to gratify every expensive luxury and every costly taste. He purchased in 1747 the charmingly situated villa of Strawberry Hill, near Twickenham, on the banks of the Thames, and six years later began a series of alterations in the Gothic style, not completed for nearly a quarter of a century later, under which the original cottage became transformed into a building without parallel in Europe. Some years after this purchase he established a printing-press there for the gratification of his literary tastes, and many of the first editions of his own works were struck off within its walls. At this press were produced in 1753 the clever, if eccentric, designs of Richard Bentley (the youngest child of the great doctor, and for some time a protege of Horace Walpole) for the poems of Gray; and among the reprints of Strawberry Hill were the Life of Lord Herbert of Cherbury, Memoirs of Grammont, Hentzner's Journey into England, and Lord Whitworth's Account of Russia. The rooms of this whimsical edifice were crowded with curiosities of every description, and the house and its contents were shown, by tickets to admit four persons, between 12 and 3 from May to October, but only one party was admitted on each day, and the owner, although enamoured of notoriety, simulated discontent at this limited intrusion into his privacy. His nephew, the reckless third earl, died in 1791, and Horace succeeded to the peerage, but he never took his place in the House of Lords, and sometimes signed his name as " the uncle of the late earl of Orford." All his life long he was the victim of the gout, but he lived to extreme old age, and died unmarried, in Berkeley Square, London, March 2, 1797, when his body was buried privately at Houghton. The ancient estate of the family descended to the earl of Cholmondeley, whose ancestor had married Horace Walpole's younger sister. All Walpole's printed books and manuscripts were left to Robert Berry and his two daughters, Mary and Agnes; their friendship had been very dear to the declining days of Walpole, who, it has even been said, wished to marry Mary Berry. By his will each of the ladies obtained a pecuniary legacy of £4000, and for their lives the house and garden, formerly the abode of Kitty Clive, which adjoined Strawberry Hill Strawberry Hill went to Mrs Anne Damer, daughter of his lifelong friend General Conway, for her life, but it wa& entailed on the countess dowager of Waldegrave and her heirs. Walpole died worth £91,000 in the three per cents, and gave the whole of it away, the chief legacy being £10,000 for his niece the duchess of Gloucester. The -collections of Strawberry Hill, which he had spent nearly fifty years in amassing, were dispersed under the hammer of George Robins in 1842. They are described in a catalogue of that date, and in a series of articles in the Gentleman's Magazine for that year.
The pen was ever in Horace Walpole's hands, and his entire com-positions would fill many volumes. His two works of imagination, the romance of the Castle of Otranto and the tragedy of the Mysterious Mother, are now all but forgotten. The former, which purported to be a story translated by William Marshal, gent., from the original Italian of Onuphrio Muralto, canon of the church of St Nicholas at Otranto, was often reprinted in England, and was translated into both French and Italian. By Sir Walter Scott it was lauded to the skies for its power in raising the passions of fear and pity; from Hazlitt it met with intense condemnation. The Mysterious Mother, a tragedy too horrible for representation on any stage, was never intended for performance in public, and only fifty copies of it were printed at Strawberry Hill. By Byron, who, like Horace Walpole, affected extreme liberalism, and like him never forgot that he was born within the purple, this tragedy was pronounced "of the highest order." Several of Walpole's antiquarian works merit high praise. The volume of Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard the Third, one of the earliest attempts to rehabilitate a character previously stamped with infamy, showed acuteness and research. These doubts provoked several answers, which are criticized in a supplement edited by Dr Hawtrey for the Philobiblon Society. A work of more lasting reputation, which has retained its vitality for more than a century, is entitled Anecdotes of Painting in England, with some Account of the, Principal Artists; collected bij George Vertue, and now digested and published from his original manuscripts by Horace Walpole (4 vols., 1762-71). Its value to art students and to admirers of biographical literature demanded its frequent reproduction, and it had the good fortune to he re-edited with additions by the Rev. James Dallaway in five volumes (1826-28), and then again was revised and edited by R. N. Wornum in 1849. A cognate volume, also based on the materials of Vertue, is entitled the Catalogue of Engravers Born and Resident in England, which, like its more famous predecessor, often passed through the press. On the Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors of England Walpole, whose professed liberalism only stopped short of the priuciples of republicanism, spent many hours of toilsome research. The best edition is that which appeared in five volumes, in 1806, under the competent editorship of Thomas Park, who carefully verified and diligently augmented the labours of the original author. As a senator himself, or as a private person following at a distance the combats at St Stephen's, Walpole recorded in a diary the chief incidents in English politics. For twenty-seven years he studied, a silent spectator for the most part, the characters of the chief personages who trod the stage of politics, and when he quitted the scene he retained the acquaintance of many of the chief actors. If he was sometimes prejudiced, lie rarely distorted the acts of those whom he disliked; and his prejudices, which lie on the surface, were mainly against those whom he considered the traitors of his father. These diaries extend from 1750 to 1783, and cover a period of momentous im-portance in the annals of the national history. The Memoirs of the Last Ten Years of the Reign of George II. was edited by Lord Holland; its successor, Memoirs of the Reign of King George III., was published under the editorial care of Sir Denis Le Marchant, who poured into his annotations a vast store of information; the last volumes of the series, Journal of the Reign of George III. from 1771 to 1783, were edited and illustrated by Doran; and to these works should be added the Reminiscences, which Walpole wrote in 1788 for the gratification of the Misses Berry. These labours would in them-selves have rendered the name of Horace Walpole famous for all time, but his delightful Letters are the crowning glory of his life. _ His correspondents were numerous and widespread, but the chief of them were Cole the clerical antiquary of Milton, Robert Jephson, an obscure play-writer in Ireland, Mason the poet, Lord Hertford during his embassy in Paris, the countess of Ossory, Lord Har-

court, George Montagu, one of his earliest friends, Conway, and Sir Horace Mann. With most of these friends he quarrelled, but the friendship of the last two, in the former case through genuine liking, and in the latter through his fortunate absence from England, was never interrupted. The Letters were published at different dates, but the standard collection is that by Peter Cunningham (9 vols., 1857-59), and to it should be added the vol-umes of the letters addressed to Walpole by his old friend Madame du Deffand (1810, 4 vols.), and the publication of Dr Doran, Mann and Manners at the Court of Florence, which is founded on the epistles sent in return to Walpole by the envoy-extraordinary. A handsome little volume, Horace Walpole and his World, con-sisting of select passages from his letters, extracted and strung together in a simple narrative by Mr L. B. Seeley, was issued in 1884. Walpole has been called "the best letter-writer in the English language"; and few indeed are the names, possibly none save Swift and Cowper, which can compare with his. In these compositions his very foibles are penned for our amusement, and his love of trifles—for, in the words of another Horace, he was ever " nescio quid meditans nugarum et totus in illis"—minister to our instruction. To these friends he communicated every fashionable scandal, every social event, and the details of every political struggle in English life. The politicians and the courtiers of his day were more akin to his character than were the chief authors of his age, and the weakness of his intellectual perceptions stands out most prominently in his estimates of such writers as Johnson and Goldsmith, Gibbon and Hume. On many occasions he displayed great liberality of disposition, and he bitterly deplored for the rest of his days his neglect of the unhappy Chatterton.
Abundant information about Horace Walpole will be found in the Memoirs of
him and of his contemporaries edited by Eliot Warburton, Jesse's George Selwyn
and his Contemporaries, and the extracts from the journals and correspondence
of Miss Berry; and it would be unpardonable to omit mention of Macaulay's
sketch of Walpole's life and character. (W. P. C.)

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