LX.-Strawberry Hill.-Walpole's London. [Concluded from No. LVII.]
Let us seat ourselves with Horace Walpole in his library at Strawberry Hill, and see the relation which the clever man of fashion bears to literature, and to the men of letters his contemporaries. There he sits, as he was painted by the poor artist Muntz, whom he patronised and despised, lounging in a luxurious arm-chair, soft and bright in its silk and embroidery, the window open, through which he occasionally looks on the green meadows and the shining river, in which he feels a half-poetical delight.[n.145.1] He turns to his elegant room, where
The books themselves are a valuable collection, some for use, and some for show; and it is easy to perceive that for the most part they have not been brought together as the mere furniture of the bookcases, but have been selected pretty much with reference to their possessor's tastes and acquirements. Here is a man, then, of fortune, chiefly derived from sinecures bestowed upon him by his father; of literary acquirements far beyond the fashionable people of his day; with abundance of wit and shrewd observation; early in his career heartily tired of political intrigue, and giving up himself to a quiet life of learned leisure mixed with a little dissipation; and yet that man, pursuing this life for half a century, appears to have come less in contact with the greatest minds of his day than hundreds of his contemporaries of far inferior genius and reputation. With the exception perhaps of General Conway, Walpole has no correspondence with any of the really eminent public men of his time; and the most illustrious of his literary friends, after Gray is gone, are Cole, the dullest of antiquaries, and Hannah More.
| Warburton, in a letter to Hurd, terms Walpole |
and we have no doubt the bold churchman was right. Walpole was utterly destitute of sympathy, perhaps for the higher things of literature, certainly for the higher class of literary men. He had too much talent to be satisfied with the dullness and the vices of the people of fashion with whom he necessarily herded; but he had not courage enough to meet the more intellectual class upon a footing of equality. For the immediate purpose of this paper, it is of very little consequence what Walpole himself individually thinks of literature and men of letters; but it is of importance to show the relation in which the men of letters stood to the higher classes, and the lofty tone in which whose passion was evidently the love of literary fame spoke of those to whom literature was a profession, and not an affair of smirking amateurship.
Pope had been dead or years when Horace Walpole bought Strawberry Hill: they were not therefore neighbours. In , Walpole, speaking depreciatingly of his contemporaries, says,
but he writes not a word to any of what he had seen of Pope, and the only notice we have (except a party account of the quarrel between Pope and Bolingbroke) is, in , of Cibber's famous pamphlet against Pope, which subsequently raised its author to be the hero of the
Walpole is evidently rubbing his hands with exultation when he says,
Pope died in . Of the small captains who scrambled for the crowns of the realms of poetry, after the death of Alexander, there was who founded a real empire-James Thomson. Walpole says,
[n.146.1] Gray, as every knows, was Walpole's friend from boyhood. The young men quarrelled upon their travels, and after years were reconciled. Walpole, no doubt, felt a sort of self-important gratification in the fame of Gray as a poet; yet, while Gray was alive, Walpole thus described his conversation:
[n.146.2] Yet Walpole was furious when Boswell's book came out, and Johnson is made to say of Gray,
In Walpole writes,
[n.147.1] Walpole, we have little doubt, considered himself as the patron of Gray, and Johnson's opinion was an attack upon his . His evident hatred of Johnson probably belonged as much to the order as to the individual. The poor man of genius and learning, who, by his stern resolves and dogged industry, had made himself independent of patronage, was a dangerous example. The immortal letter to Chesterfield on the dedication of the Dictionary was an offence against a very numerous tribe.
It is easy to understand, from Walpole's letters, how an author, however eminent, was looked upon in society, except he had some adventitious quality of wealth or birth to recommend him. In Walpole thus writes to Hume:
It is difficult to understand whether this passage is meant for insolence to the person to whom it is addressed: for what was Hume but an author?
--, the aristocratic and the fashionable--to which class Hume might fancy he belonged, after he had proceeded from his tutorship to a mad lord into the rank of a . But then
here the aristocrat is coquetting with the honours of authorship in the face of his brother author. Perhaps the whole was meant for skilful flattery. Walpole's real estimate of the literary class is found in a letter to Cole, who was too obtuse to take any portion of the affront to himself:--
Walpole was too acute not to admire Fielding; yet he evidently delights to lower the man, in the gusto with which he tells the following anecdote :--
[n.148.1] Scott, in his life of Fielding, suggests that something of this anecdote may belong to the
of Walpole; and that the blind man might have been Fielding's brother, who was blind; in the same way the Irishmen might not necessarily have been denizens of ; and the female, whom Walpole designates by the most opprobrious of names, might have been somewhat more respectable than his own Lady Caroline. We are not sure that, under the worst aspect, the supper at Fielding's was more discreditable than the banquet of minced chickens at . (See No. LVII., page .) Fielding at this period, when his crime was a dirty table-cloth, thus writes of himself:--
Walpole himself, in the outset of his literary career, appears, as was to be expected from his temperament and education, miserable under what was then, and is now, called criticism. After the publication of the
[n.148.2] If he. had lived in these times, he might have been less thin-skinned. Those were not the days of reviews and magazines, and newspapers. The
was set up in , and the
in . There was only an
and or other starveling journals. Those were the days when the old Duchess of Rutland, being told of some strange casualty, says,
says Lady Lucy,
[n.148.3] Horace Walpole might well have compounded for a little of the pert criticism of the reviews of his day, to be exempt from the flood of opinion which now floats the straws and rushes over the things which are stable. Fortunate was it for him and for us that he lived before the days of newspapers, or half he has told us would have been told in a perishable form. A Strawberry Hill man could not have existed in the glare of journalising. He would have been a slave in the Republic of Letters, although he affected to despise court slavery. He must, in the very nature of things, have been president and member of council of some half-dozen of the societies with which London now abounds; and he would have had the satisfaction of walking in the horse-mill of hot rooms and cold coffee times a week
| during the season,
amidst the same round of masks, all smiling, envious, jobbing, puffing, and bepuffed. He was
only familiar with Society, the Antiquarian; and he thus speaks of it
The Antiquarian Society then consisted of a few harmless and crotchety people, who wrote dull books which nobody read but themselves. But the dull men in time came to understand the full value of gregariousness; the name of Society at length became Legion; and literary and scientific London resolved itself into mighty coterieship, in which the dwarfs are put upon stilts, and the of reasonable stature consents to move amongst them, and sometimes to prescribe laws, in the belief that he himself looms larger in the provincial distance. This clever organization came after Walpole's time. Possibly he might have liked the individual men of letters better, if the pretenders to literature, appending all sorts of cabalistic characters to their names, had set him up as their idol. As it was, there was a frank genial intercourse between the best men of his time, which was equally independent of puffing and patronage. The club life of the Burkes and Johnsons was precisely the opposite of the society life of our own days. We of course see nothing of the club life in Walpole's writings; but it is a thing which has left enduring traces. Walpole was not robust enough to live in such an element.
In the days when periodical criticism was in its nonage, men of letters naturally wrote to each other about the merits of new works. There is probably less of this in Walpole than in any other letter-writer equally voluminous; yet he sometimes gives us an opinion of a book, which is worth comparing with that more impartial estimate which is formed by an after-generation, when novelty and fashion have lost their influence, and prejudice, whether kind or hostile, ceases to operate. We may learn from the mistakes of clever men as to the merits, of their contemporaries, to be a little humble in forming our own opinions. Let us hear what Walpole has to say of Sterne:--
[n.149.1] Gray, who by nature had a keen relish for humour, formed a juster opinion of Sterne, though he scarcely did him justice :
Goldsmith, who was probably jealous of the Yorkshire wit's sudden reputation, called him
which Johnson denied; but Johnson himself disparaged Sterne almost as much as Walpole. Were any of these eminent men quite right in the matter? There were many reasons why Sterne should offend Johnson-reasons which have condemned him in our own day to neglect. But for real creative comic power he was never exceeded, but
| by Englishman: his humour, as well as his pathos, has its roots in a rich poetical soil.
Walpole, however, did not always set up as his motto.
years after, Darwin arose; and he at once mounted like a balloon
into the empyrean of popularity, and there collapsed. Walpole thus raves about the |
[n.150.1] Darwin has utterly perished, and can never be resuscitated: his whole system of art was false. Walpole admired him because he was bred up in a school of criticism which regarded as the thing needful, and considered that the most poetical language which was the farthest removed from the language of common life: hence in some respects his idolatry of Gray, and his contempt of Thomson. Cowper, the only poet of his later years who will live, is never once mentioned by him. The mode in which he addresses himself to Jephson, the author of
and several other mouthing tragedies, appears to us now inexpressibly ridiculous:
[n.150.2] This is the natural result of Walpole being brought up in the French school of criticism. His correspondence with Voltaire shows the process by which he was led to think that such a word-spinner as Robert Jephson, captain of foot, and a nominee of Lord Townshend in the Irish Parliament, imitated Beaumont and Fletcher, and produced a play superior to all theirs. In the preface to the edition of
Walpole thus expressed himself in defence of his introduction into a serious romance of domestics speaking in common language:
or years after this Voltaire wrote a civil letter to Walpole on the subject of his
and Walpole, in reply, took occasion to apologise for the remarks he had made on Voltaire in the
Voltaire replied, defending his criticism; and the vindicator of Shakspere is then prostrate at the feet of the Frenchman:
[n.151.1] It is evident from this letter that it was the merest egotism which originally led Walpole to set up for the defender of Shakspere. Voltaire, in common with all of the then French school, held that the language of princes and heroes must be sublime and dignified; or, in other words, they must utter a language not formed naturally and fitly either for the development of exalted passions or ordinary sentiments. Introduce the simple language of common life amongst this conventional dialogue, and an essential discord is necessarily produced. Voltaire, as all the other French dramatists have done, entirely banished the natural language, and fitted the waiting-maid with the same form of raving for the white handkerchief as they bestowed upon the princess. This was consistent. They fancied Shakspere was inconsistent and barbarous when the comic came in contact with the serious, and the elevated was blended with the familiar. They did not see the essential difference between heroic and heroic. He never takes the sublime and the terrible out of the natural; and in the most agonizing situation we encounter the most common images. Neither did Walpole see this essential distinction; and thus he has his ready echo of
Had he understood Shakspere, he would not have yielded his position.
In his letter to Voltaire, Walpole says,
The adroit Frenchman must have laughed a little at this compliment. Walpole was thinking of his Letters, of which the world had then no knowledge. If Voltaire had turned to the works of the Strawberry Hill press, he would have seen little imitation either of his philosophy or of his style. Voltaire, the most subtle of scoffers, was upon occasions an enthusiast. He had a heart. Walpole, even to his most intimate friends, was a scoffer and a scandal-monger; never moved to any thing like warmth, except when talking about the constitution (by which he meant the protection of certain privileged persons in the: exclusive enjoyment of public wealth and honour); and only growing earnest in his old age when he was frightened into hysterics about the French Revolution, having in his greener years called the death-warrant of Charles I.
He hates authors, as we have seen, because
If this be a true description of the authors of Walpole's time, the world has lost something by a change; for in our own day a writer who is in earnest is apt to be laughed at by those who conceive that the end of all literature is to amuse, and that its highest reward is to have, as Sterne had,
to dine somewhere, always provided that there is a lord's card to glitter in the exact spot of the library or drawing-room where the stranger eye can best read and admire. This is fame, and this is happiness. But the silent consolation of high and cheerful thoughts,--the right of entering at pleasure into a world filled with beauty and variety,--the ability to converse with the loftiest and purest spirits, who will neither ridicule, nor envy, nor betray their humble disciple,--the power of going out of the circle of distracting cares into a region where there is always calm and content,--these great blessings of the student's life, whether they end or not in adding to the stock of the world's knowledge, are not the ends which are most proposed according to the fashion of our day to a writer's ambition. The
is too often set down for a fool--not seldom for a madman.
To the class of writers that Walpole shunned Rousseau belonged, with all his faults. Walpole's adventures with this remarkable man are characteristic enough of the individual and of the times. His notice of Rousseau is in a letter from Paris to Lady Harvey, in :--
Walpole committed a mistake in not seeing that the singularities and affectations were an essential part of the man, and in not treating them therefore with charity. and forbearance. After Rousseau had left Paris, Walpole, the hater of impostures, the denouncer of Chatterton as a forger and liar, wrote a letter, purporting to be
| from the King of
Prussia to Rousseau, which had prodigious success in the French circles, and of course got into
all the journals of Europe. This was at a time when the |
was proscribed and distressed. Walpole was very proud to his confidential friends of the success of this hoax:--
[n.153.1] Walpole had no objection to Rousseau's principles; he insulted him because he was a vain man who affected singularity, or, what was more probable, could not avoid being singular. There was honesty at least in Johnson's denunciation of him:--
Johnson would have banished Rousseau to the plantations in talk, but assuredly would have given him a dinner in Bolt Court, and, if his poverty had become extreme, would have admitted him amongst his odd pensioners. Walpole's success in the pretended letter was complete. He writes to Conway:
Rousseau, in deep affliction, wrote a letter to the editor of the
in which the fabrication had been printed, denouncing it as
The vanity of Walpole, in regard to this letter, which consists of lines in decent French, in which there is very little humour and no wit, is almost as insane as the vanity of Rousseau. He writes to Chute, to Conway, to Cole, to Gray, to all mankind, to tell of his wonderful performance. To Cole he says,
[n.153.2] When Rousseau had quarrelled with Hume, months after, it was of the unhappy man's suspicions that Hume was concerned in the letter from the King of Prussia; and then Walpole thus writes to Hume:
[n.153.3] We have a suspicion that Walpole's delicacy was sometimes measured by his cowardice. Warburton, writing to Hurd, took a just view of the whole transaction:
There can be no doubt that Walpole's coxcombity must have been
in his own day, except amongst a favoured few. It is perfectly clear, from his letters, that he had no reverence for anything-but himself. His affectation was as excessive as that of Rousseau; but it went in another direction. He fancied that he could afford to speak contemptuously of all political men; although, whilst himself a politician, he was the merest tool of party, and never made a single honest attempt to earn penny of the thousands which the nation bestowed upon him. As a man of fashion, he was eternally holding up his friends to ridicule; though he went quite as far in their follies as a feeble frame would carry him. As a man of letters, he affected to despise nearly all other men of letters: what is there but affectation in thus writing to Hume--
[n.154.1] What is the secret of all this affectation? He wanted a heart, and he thought it very clever to let the world know it; for he was deeply]imbued with the low philosophy of his age, which thought it wisdom to appear to love nothing, to fear nothing, to reverence nothing.
The world in Walpole's own day took up an opinion which it will not easily part with--that he behaved heartlessly to the unfortunate Chatterton. In , when Chatterton was little more than years old, he addressed a letter from Bristol to Horace Walpole, offering to supply him with accounts of a succession of painters who had flourished at Bristol, which accounts, he said, had been discovered with some ancient poems in that city, specimens of which he enclosed. It was about months before this that Chatterton had communicated to Felix Farley's
and very soon after the publication of that remarkable imitation of an ancient document, he produced, from time to time, various poems, which he attributed to Rowley, a priest of the century, and which became the subject of the most remarkable literary controversy of modern times. Walpole replied to Chatterton's communication with ready politeness; but when Chatterton solicited his assistance in quitting a profession which he disliked, his-application was neglected, and the poor boy threw himself upon the world of London without a friend. He then demanded his manuscripts, in a letter which was too
| manly and
independent to receive from Walpole any other name than |
The manuscripts were returned in a blank cover. This was the extent of Walpole's offence; and, looking at the man's character, it is impossible to think he could have acted otherwise. He probably doubted the ability of the friendless boy to furnish the information he required; he suspected that the papers sent to him were fabricated. When Chatterton wrote to him as man of letters has a right to address another, he could not brook the assumed equality; and he revenged himself by the pettiness of aristocratic insolence. Had he sought out the boy who had given this evidence of his spirit as well as of his talent, he would not have been Horace Walpole. The unhappy boy
in . Walpole was assailed for many years for his conduct towards Chatterton, and he seems at times to have felt the charge very keenly. He thus addresses himself to the editor of Chatterton's Miscellanies:
In , when the
had been attacking him on the subject of Chatterton, he thus wrote to Cole:
In this letter he adds,
Walpole does not appear to have seen that he was in this dilemma; either the poems which he had received from Chatterton were authentic, and, if so, the greatest curiosities in our language; or they were fabricated by an
Walpole, we believe, did not see the extraordinary merit of the poems. His taste was not of the highest quality. When the world agreed that a great spirit had been amongst them, and had perished untimely, Walpole, in self-defence, dwelt upon his
He probably forgot that a work had been published in , under the following title,
and that the preface to this translation from the Italian thus commences--
Who can say that, if Chatterton had lived, he would not have avowed the Rowley poems to be his own, as Walpole afterwards
| acknowledged the
And where, then, would have been the forgery any more than in the fabrication of the
years after Chatterton's death Walpole quieted his conscience by continuing to call the marvellous charity-boy
but an occasion rose in which genius might be patronised without incurring the risk of an impertinent letter. Miss Hannah More had found a milk-woman at Bristol who wrote verses; and they were just such verses as Hannah More and Horace Walpole would think very wonderful; so a subscription is to be raised for the milk-woman, Mistress Ann Yearsley.
according to a letter of Walpole to Miss More in ,
is unexceptionable. Walpole prescribes her studies:
Imagine that poor Chatterton had been more unfortunate than he really been patronised by Horace Walpole, permitted a garret to sleep in, advanced to the honours of the butler's table, and taught by the profound critic, that Spenser was wretched stuff, and Shakspere's
[n.156.1] The milk-woman became restive
| under the control of Hannah More, and she quarrelled
with her patroness, upon which afflicting occurrence Walpole thus condoles with his friend:
[n.157.1] It is impossible to have a clearer notion of what Walpole and such as Walpole meant by patronage. The Baron of Otranto would have thought it the perfection of benevolence to have housed and clothed a troubadour; but the stocks and the whipping-post would have been ready for any treasonable assertion of independence. The days of chivalry are gone, and, heaven be praised, those of patronage are gone after them!
Walpole, like many other very clever men, could not perfectly appreciate the highest excellence, and yet could see the ridiculous side of the pretenders to wit and poetry. He laughs, as Gifford laughed, at
and he has told the follies of Batheaston with his characteristic liveliness:
When poetry was essentially an affair of
it was no wonder that a mob of silly fashionable people set up for poets. The whole age was wanting in taste : it was not poetical because it was superficial. But it was a very different age from our own, when the national intellect is divided between utilitarians and those called by utilitarians non-utilitarians. May it long be so divided! May those who believe only in what is gross and palpable to sense go apart from those who cherish what belongs to the spiritual. Ask them not to believe. Let them make the most of their microscopes, their telescopes, their chemical affinities, their scalpels. Yet, a new generation will be fed and grow upon what they despise. It is feeding, and it is growing. Its aliment is as abundant as the rain, the dew, and the sunshine. It has nothing exclusive, to gratify a small distinction; and it will not feed upon husks. The Walpoles belong to neither class of this day.
The intercourse between Hannah More and Horace Walpole began in . It was an odd intimacy; but compliments freely received and bestowed made it agreeable, no doubt, to both parties. Here is a pretty note from Horace Walpole, written with a crowquill pen upon the sweetest-scented paper:
[n.158.2] Walpole could bear flattery better than Dr. Johnson:
[n.158.3] As Miss More grew older, she, no doubt, grew wiser; and Walpole himself, with a very prevailing inclination to ridicule what he called her saintliness, came to respect her for her virtues, instead of continuing to burn incense to her genius. The last indication of their friendship appears in his giving her a Bible, which she wished he would read himself.
We have now run through the London of Horace Walpole, with reference only to his connection with the fashion and the literature of his times. His correspondence,
as we have before observed, indicates little association with the more eminent literary men of
his long day, and no very great sympathy for the best things which they produced. There is
scarcely any other general aspect of London of which his works hold up a mirror. The chief
value of his letters consists in his lively descriptions of those public events whose nicer
details would, without such a chronicler, be altogether hid under the varnish of what we call
history. It is evident that with such details our work has no concern. We shall conclude,
therefore, with a brief notice or , by Walpole, of the physical
increase of London. In he thus writes to the Miss Berrys:-- |
And again, in the same year,
The last letter of Horace Walpole is a striking contrast to the vivacity, the curiosity, the acute observation, which made him for years the most lively of correspondents :--
[n.160.1] Like the clock at Strawberry Hill, which Henry VIII. gave to Anne Boleyn, Walpole was fast ceasing to be a timekeeper: he was a worn-out relic of the past.
[n.145.1] See page 156.
[n.146.1] Horace Walpole to Mann, March 29, 1745.
[n.146.2] Horace Walpole to Montagu, Sept. 3, 1748.
[n.147.1] Horace Walpole to Miss Berry, May 26, 1791.
[n.147.2] Horace Walpole to Cole, April 27, 1773.
[n.148.1] Horace Walpole to Montagu, May 18, 1749.
[n.148.2] Horace Walpole to the Rev. Henry Zouch, May 14, 1759.
[n.148.3] Horace Walpole to Mann, Dec. 23, 1742,
[n.149.1] Horace Walpole to Sir David Dalrymple, April 4, 1760.
[n.150.1] Horace Walpole to the Miss Berrys, April 28, 1789.
[n.150.2] Horace Walpole to Robert Jephson, Esq., October 17, 1777.
[n.151.1] Horace Walpole to Voltaire, July 27, 1756.
[n.153.1] Horace Walpole to Chute, January, 1766.
[n.153.2] Horace Walpole to Cole, January 18, 1766.
[n.153.3] Horace Walpole to Hume, July 26, 1766.
[n.154.1] Horace Walpole to Hume, November 6, 1766.
[n.156.1] Horace Walpole to Bentley, February 23, 1755.
[n.157.1] Horace Walpole to Hannah More, October 14, 1787.
[n.158.1] Horace Walpole to Conway, Jan. 15, 1775.
[n.158.2] Horace Walpole to Hannah More, May 6, 1784
[n.158.3] Madame d'Arblay's Diary, vol. i. p. 103.
[n.160.1] Horace Walpole to the Countess of Ossory, January 13, 1797.
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|CHAPTER LI: Bermondsey: The Abbey|
|CHAPTER LII: Modern Bermondsey|
|CHAPTER LIII: The Mint|
|CHAPTER LIV: The Thames Tunnel|
|CHAPTER LV: The Docks|
|CHAPTER LVI: Westminster Bridge|
|CHAPTER LVII: Strawberry Hill--Walpole's London|
|CHAPTER LVIII: Blackfriards Bridge|
|CHAPTER LIX: Clerkenwell|
|CHAPTER LX: Strawberry Hill--Walpole's London (concluded from No. LVII)|
|CHAPTER LXI: Vauxhall, Waterloo, and Southwark Bridges|
|CHAPTER LXII: Barber-Surgeons' Hall|
|CHAPTER LXIII: The College of Surgeons|
|CHAPTER LXIV: The Royal Academy. No. 1|
|CHAPTER LXV: The Royal Academy. No. 2|
|CHAPTER LXVI: London Astrologers|
|CHAPTER LXVII: St. Giles's, Past and Present|
|CHAPTER LXVIII: The Post Office|
|CHAPTER LXIX: Pall Mall|
|CHAPTER LXX: The Temple Church, Its History and Associations|
|CHAPTER LXXI: Scotsmen in London, by James M'Turk, Esq.|
|CHAPTER LXXII: The Foundling Hospital|
|CHAPTER LXXIII: The Corn Exchange|
|CHAPTER LXXIV: Ely Place|
|CHAPTER LXXV: Goldsmiths' Hall|