LVII.-Strawberry Hill--Walpole's London.
might be a similar question with many persons, were we not living in a somewhat different age from that of Sir Robert Walpole. But it may be asked, with some propriety,
The maker of Strawberry Hill--the builder--up of its galleries, and tribunes, and Holbein-chambers--the arranger of its
--the collector of its pictures, and books, and bijouterie, says of himself,
[n.97.2] Horace Walpole himself prevented the realization of his own prophecy. It was said of him, even during his lifetime,
but he nevertheless contrived, by tying up his toy-warehouse and its moveables with entails and jointures through several generations, to keep the thing tolerably entire for nearly half a century after he had-left that state of being where
And though the paper portion of his
&c.-are formed of materials not much more durable than his battlements, he was during a long life scattering about the world an abundance of other paper fragments, that have not only lasted , , , years after he was dead, but which aftertimes will not willingly let die. It was in Strawberry Hill that the everyday thoughts and experiences for the most part centred that have made the letters of Horace Walpole the best record of the manners of the upper ranks during half a century, when very great social changes were working all around. Strawberry Hill and Horace Walpole are inseparably associated in our minds. The house in , from which he sometimes dates, is, like most other West-end houses, a thing distinguished only by its number; and which has no more abiding associations than the chariot which rolls on from its drawing-room through the necessary decay of cracked varnish and split pannels, until its steps display the nakedness of their original iron, and the dirty rag that was once a carpet is finally succeeded by the luxury of clean straw once a-week. We cannot conceive Horace Walpole in a house with windows upon a floor, in a formal row of ugly brick brethren. It is in Strawberry Hill, in the
--or in the
--that we fancy him writing to Montagu, Mann, Chute, and Conway, in the days when
and Lady Townshend exclaimed of the house,
In a few years the owner had visions of galleries, and round towers, and cloisters, and chapels; and then the house became filled with kingly armour, and rare pictures, and cabinets of miniatures by Oliver and Petitot, and Raffaelle china. Then, when Strawberry Hill came to the height of its glory, the owner kept
and his whole time was passed in giving tickets for seeing it, and hiding himself while it was seen.[n.98.1] Lastly came the time when the man was laid up for weeks with the gout, and the building and curiosity-buying was at an end; and after the Duchess of York had come to see his house in , when he put a carpet on the step of his gate, and matted his court, and presented chocolate upon a salver, he says, here
There never was a place so associated with the memory of man as Strawberry Hill is with Horace Walpole. There is nothing to confuse us in the recollection. We are not embarrassed with the various branches of the genealogical tree. Horace the or Horace the , Horace the great or Horace the little, do not jostle in our memories. Imagination has no great room to play, with a catalogue in hand, and a porter
| watching that no trinkets are stolen, and a mob of people about us, who |
[n.99.1] Even as the author of
saw the portrait all in white of Lord Deputy Falkland walk out of its frame in the great gallery at Strawberry Hill, so if Mr. Robins had permitted us to wander about the house in the cold twilight, we should most assuredly have seen a dapper little gentleman in embroidered velvet, who would have told us something new worth communicating to our readers. As it is, we must be content without any revelations from Strawberry Hill. The world ought to be content. It possesses some closely printed pages of private history, gossiped over and committed to paper in great part within those walls. Strawberry Hill has a wonderful resemblance to
of Chaucer; and that house
Like each other-
But the uses of the poetical and prosaic
Chaucer's house was for all time, but it has left very few minute records: Strawberry Hill has reference to a fraction of existence; but for half a century it can boast of the most delightful historiographer of the London world of fashion-a noisy, busy, glittering world at all periods, but in Walpole's pages something more amusing than the respectable monotony of the same world in our better days of prudence and decorum.
The letters of Horace Walpole cannot at all be regarded as a picture of society in general. He has no distinct notion whatever of the habits of the middle classes. Society with him is divided into great sections--the aristocracy and the mob. He was made by his times; and this is of the remarkable features of his times. With all his sympathy for literature, he has a decided hatred for authors that are out of the pale of fashion. Fielding, Johnson, Sterne, Goldsmith, the greatest names of his day, are with him ridiculous and contemptible. He cannot be regarded therefore as a representative of the literary classes of his times. As the son of a great minister he was petted and flattered till his father fell from his power; he says himself he had then enough of flattery. When he mixed among his equals in the political intrigues of the time, he displayed no talent for business or oratory. His feeble constitution compelled him to seek amusement instead of dissipation; and his great amusement was to look upon the follies of his associates and to laugh at them. He was not at bottom an ill-natured man, or without feeling. He affected that insensibility which is the exclusive privilege of high life-and long may it continue so. When Lord Mountford shot himself, and another Lord rejoiced that his friend's death would allow him to hire the best cook in England, the selfish indifference was probably more affected than real. Walpole himself takes off his own mask on occasion. When he heard of Gray's death, in writing to Chute he apologises for the concern he feels, and adds,
When he speaks of individuals we may occasionally think that the world had formed his language; he is too often spiteful and malicious: but when he describes a class he is not likely much to exaggerate. The would render him somewhat charitable: if he did not
he would not set down
when he was holding up a mirror of himself and of the very people with whom he was corresponding.
In the early part of the last century London saw less of the wealth and splendour of the aristocracy than previous to the Revolution. The great political divisions of the kingdom kept many families away from the Court; and the habits of the Elector of Hanover who walked into the ownership of St. James's, and of his son and successor, were not very likely to attract the proud and the discontented from the scenes of their own proper greatness. Walpole, writing from Newmarket in , says,
It was some time before the large houses of the nobility once more made London the magnificent capital which it subsequently became. In the mean time the lordly tenants of the
above described spent a vast deal of their time in places of resort. Let us cast
|a rapid glance at the fashionable amusements of the half of the last century.|
The year presents to us a curious spectacle of the aristocracy and the people at issue, and almost in mortal conflict, not upon the question of corn or taxes, but whether the Italian school of music should prevail, or the Anglo- German.
[n.101.1] The fight had been going on for nearly years. Everybody knows Swift's epigram
Walpole naturally belonged to the party of his
Handel had produced his great work, the
in , at Covent Garden. Fashion was against him, though he was supported by the court, the mob, and the poet of common sense. He went to Ireland; and the triumph of the Italian faction was thus immortalized by Pope:--
[n.101.2] Handel came back to London in , and the tide then turned in his favour. Horace Walpole shows us how fashion tried to sneer him down; he is himself the oracle of the divinity.
[n.101.3] The Italian Opera House in the itself went out of fashion in a few years, and the nobility had their
| favourite house in
. What the Court
then patronised the aristocracy rejected. |
[n.102.1] However, amidst all these feuds the Italian Opera became firmly established in London; and through that interchange of taste which fortunately neither the prejudices of exclusiveness nor ignorance can long prevent, the people began gradually to appreciate the opera, and the nobility became enthusiastic admirers of the oratorio.
In the days of Walpole the Theatre was fashionable; and in their love of theatrical amusements the nobility did not affect to be exclusive. In not liking Garrick when he came out, Walpole and his friend Gray indulged probably in the fastidiousness of individual taste, instead of representing the opinions of the fashionable or literary classes. Gray writes,
Walpole, in , months after Garrick's appearance, says,
[n.102.2] From some cause or other, Walpole hated and vilified Garrick all his life. His pride was perhaps wounded when he was compelled to jostle against the actor in the best society. In the instance of Garrick, Pope's strong sense was again opposed to Walpole's super-refinement. The great poet of manners said to Lord Orrery on witnessing Garrick's Richard III.,
As a manager Garrick did not scruple to resent an injustice, however offensive to the leaders of the ton.
[n.102.3] The Templars with their syringes and stinking oil, and Lord Hobart with his ready
give a notion of the mob-legislation of the theatres at that period, for boxes, pit, and gallery constituted mob. There was a calm awhile, but in Walpole writes:
Walpole tells us a most amusing story of the manner in which these things were managed in his earlier days.
[n.103.1] The participation of people of fashion in theatrical rows is a sufficient evidence of the interest which they took in the theatre. They carried the matter still farther in , by hiring to act a play themselves.
and Ranelagh figure, as we have seen, in the descriptions of the
[n.103.3] But none of these writers give us an adequate notion of of and Ranelagh.
| But for a little, quiet, domestic party at , composed of the highest in rank and fashion,
Walpole is the most delightful, and, we have no doubt, the most veracious of chroniclers. Mrs.
Tibbs and the pawnbroker's widow of Goldsmith are mere pretenders to coarseness by the side of
Lady Caroline Petersham and Miss Ashe. Walpole receives a card from Lady Caroline in
to go with her to . When
he calls, the ladies |
All the town had been summoned; and in they picked up dukes and damsels, and young ladies especially, who had been
They marched to their barge with a boat of French horns attending. Upon debarking at they
was a tavern at . The party assemble in their booth and go to supper, after a process of cookery which would rather astonish a Lady Caroline of our own day:
Lady Caroline was not singular in her tastes. Before the accession of George III. it was by no means uncommon for ladies of quality to sup at taverns, and even to the gentlemen to be of the company. Walpole says that in a Frenchman, who was ignorant of the custom, took some liberties with Lady Harrington, through which mistake her house was afterwards closed against him. This practice, which to us seems so startling, was a relic of the manners of a century earlier. The decorum of the court of George III. banished the custom from the upper ranks; but it lingered amongst the middle classes: and Dr. Johnson thought it not in the slightest degree indecorous to say to young ladies who called upon him,
to which the ladies, who wished to consult the philosopher upon the subject of Methodism, very readily assented. In the reign of the George, and perhaps a little later, the great ladies, whether at taverns or in private houses, carried their vivacity somewhat farther than we should now think consistent with perfect propriety. Lady Coventry, at a great supper at Lord ,
How the Americans of our own day must be shocked at the vulgarity of our aristocratic predecessors; for will not tolerate even the word , and describe the condition which that word conveys by the pretty epithet ! We are adopting the term; and it may be expected that the refinement in our nomenclature may lead to a revival of a little of the old liberty in our practice. Walpole explains that was
He did not foresee the change in our English. He calls things by their right names. He tells us that
and, what is harder to believe, that the Chancellor, Lord
Henley, being chosen a governor of St. Bartholomew's Hospital,
These exhibitions were in .
We might believe, from the well-known lines of Pope, that the amusement which was invented for the solace of a mad king was the exclusive inheritance of an aristocracy:
Not so. The cards were a part of the folly of youth as well as of age. Walpole never appears to have had the passion of a gambler; but we learn from his years' correspondence that he was always well content to dabble with cards and dice, and he records his winnings with a very evident satisfaction. The reign of
|, whose chances and intrigues interested the great quite as much
as the accidents and plots of the reign of Anne, was supplanted by the new dynasty of ; and then yielded to the more gambling
excitement of ; to which succeeded; and
the very cards themselves were at last almost kicked out by the ivory cubes, which disposed of
fortunes by a more summary process. In whist was the mania, though Walpole voted it dull: |
[n.105.1] Whist had a long reign. In Walpole writes:
[n.106.1] Ministers of state, and princes who had something to do, were ready to relieve the cares of business by gambling, as much as other people gamed to vary their idleness. Lord Sandwich
[n.106.2] years later, at a magnificent ball and supper at Bedford House, the Duke
[n.106.3] Amongst the royal and noble gamblers, swindlers sometimes found their way. There was a Sir William Burdett, whose name had the honour of being inscribed in the betting-room at White's as the subject of a wager that he would be the baronet that would be hanged. He and a lady,
cheated Lord Castledurrow and Captain Rodney out of a handsome sum at faro. The noble victim met the Baronet at Ranelagh, and thus apostrophised him:
The Baronet took the money with a respectful bow, and then asked his Lordship the further favour to set him down at , and without waiting for an answer whipped into the chariot. [n.106.4] No doubt the Baronet prospered and was smiled upon. Walpole tells another story of a hanger--on upon the gaming-tables, which has a dash of the tragic in it:
[n.106.5] The genius of gambling might be painted, like Garrick, between the tragic and the comic muse. We turn over the page, and Comedy again presents herself, in an attitude that looks very like the hoyden step of her half sister, Farce:
There was deep philosophy in a saying of George Selwyn's, when a waiter at Arthur's Club House was taken up for robbery:
It may be doubted whether the gentlemen-highwaymen who peopled Newgate at that era had a much looser code of morals than some of the great folks they pillaged. The people of London got frightened about an earthquake in , and again in . There was a slight shock in the of those years, which set the haunters of White's furiously betting whether it was an earthquake or the blowing--up of the powder-mills at Hounslow. Bishop Sherlock and Bishop Secker endeavoured to frighten the people into piety; but the visitors at Bedford House, who had supped and stayed late, went about the town knocking at doors, and bawling in the watchman's note,
Some of the fashionable set got frightened, however, and went out of town; and days before the exact day on which the great earthquake was prophesied to happen, the crowd of coaches passing with whole parties removing into the country was something like the procession already described to .
[n.107.2] When the rulers of the nation on such an occasion, or any other occasion of public terror, took a fit of hypocrisy and ordered a general fast, the gambling-houses used to be filled with senators who had a day of leisure upon their hands. Indifference to public opinion, as well as a real insensibility, drew a line between the people of fashion and the middle classes. Walpole tells a story which is characteristic enough to be true, though he hints that it was invented:--,
[n.107.3] A great deal of this reckless spirit of gambling, which lasted through the century, and which probably has only
|clothed itself more decently in our own day, must be attributed to the great increase of the Wealth of the aristocracy, through the natural effects of the great increase of the profitable industry of the middle classes. But it cannot be denied that much of the increase flowed back to the sources from which it was derived, in the form of bills, bonds, post-obits, and mortgages. The financial maxim of Charles Fox, that a man need never want money if he was willing to pay enough for it, tended to keep matters somewhat equal.|
The idea from which we cannot escape, when we trace the history of fashion in the middle of the last century, is, that the prevailing tone indicated something like a general moral intoxication. A succession of stimulants appears necessary to the upholding of .social existence. This must be always in some,degree the case with the rich and idle, whose vocation is chiefly to what they call pleasure. But we have few glimpses in the letters and memoirs of that period of the disposition to those calm domestic enjoyments which are principally derived from the cultivation of a taste for reading and the arts, and which, in our own day, equally characterises the middle and the upper classes. Of course, under the loosest state of manners, even in the profligate court of Charles II., there must have been many families of the upper ranks who despised the low vices and unintellectual excitements of their equals in birth; and under the most decorous and rational system of life there must be a few who would gladly restore a general licence, and who occasionally signalise themselves by some outbreak. But neither of these constitute a class. In the youth and middle age of Walpole the men and women of fashion appear to have lived without restraint imposed by their own sense of decorum, without apprehension of the opinions of their associates, without the slightest consideration for the good or evil word of the classes below them.
[n.108.1] Every lady or gentleman of spirit was allowed to have a , whether it inclined to gambling, or intrigue, or drunkenness, or riots in public places. What Walpole said of the Duke of Newcastle, that he looked like a dead body hung in chains always wanting to be hung somewhere else, gives a notion of the perpetual restlessness of the fashionable class. The untiring activity of some leaders lasted a good deal longer; and no doubt occasionally displays itself even now in a preternatural energy, which makes the cheek pale in the season of bloom and freshness. But there is now some repose, some intervals for reflection; the moral intoxication does not last through of the -and- hours. The love of , the great characteristic of the vulgar of our own day, was emphatically the passion of the great in the last century. The plague was reported to be in a house in the City; and fashion went to look at the outside of the house in which the plague was enshrined. Lady Milton and Lady Temple on a night in March put on hats and cloaks, and, sallying out by themselves to see Lord Macclesfield lie in state,
(by which Walpole usually means an assemblage of people of any station below the aristocracy) paid back this
| curiosity with interest. The Miss Gunnings lighted upon the earth of London in , and were declared the handsomest women alive. |
It is difficult to understand how a real plebeian mob should know anything about the Miss Gunnings, at a time when there were no paragraphs of personality in the meagre newspapers. The Gunning mob was probably a very courtly . At any rate the curiosity was in common between the high and the low. of these fair ladies became Duchess of Hamilton.
[n.109.1] years later there was another great sight to which all resorted--the Ghost. How characteristic of the period is the following description of a visit to the den of the ghost!-
Imagine a prince of the blood, noble ladies, a peer, and the son of a prime minister, packing in hackneycoach from on a winter's night, and in a dirty lane near Smithfield watching till half-past by the light of a tallow-candle, amidst of the
for the arrival of a ghost! In those days the great patron of executions was the fashionable George Selwyn; and this was the way he talked of such diversions:--
[n.109.2] When M'Lean, the highwayman, was under sentence of death in Newgate, he was a great attraction to the fashionable world.
[n.109.3] These were the heroines of the minced chickens at ; and we presume they did not visit the condemned cell to metamorphose the thief
| into a saint, as is the |
of our own times. The real robbers were as fashionable in as their trumpery histories were in .
[n.110.1] The visitors had abundant opportunities for the display of their sympathy:--
[n.110.2] Amidst such excitements, who can wonder that a man of talent and taste, as Walpole was, should often prefer pasting prints into a portfolio, or correcting proofs, at
The reckless and improvident spirit of the period when Horace Walpole was an active member of the world of fashion is strikingly shown in the rash, and we may say indecent, manner in which persons of rank rushed into marriage. The happiness of a life was the stake which the great too often trusted to something as uncertain as the cast of a die or the turn--up of a trump. It seems almost impossible that in London, or years ago only, such a being as a Fleet parson could have existed, who performed the marriage ceremonial at any hour of the day or night, in a public-house or a low lodging, without public notice or public witnesses, requiring no consent of parents, and asking only the names of the parties who sought to be united. We might imagine, at any rate, that such irreverend proceedings were confined to the lowest of the people. The Fleet parsons had not a monopoly of their trade. In the fashionable locality of May Fair was a chapel in which Keith presided, who advertised in the newspapers, and made, according to Walpole,
This worthy was at last excommunicated for
but the impudent varlet retaliated, and excommunicated at his own chapel Bishop Gibson, the Judge of the Ecclesiastical Court, and reverend doctors. Keith was sent to prison, where he remained many years; but his shop flourished under the management of his shopmen, called Curates; and the public were duly apprised of its situation and prices:--
[n.110.3] Keith issued from his prison a manifesto against the Act to prevent clandestine marriages, to which we shall presently advert, in which he gravely puts forth the following recommendation of his summary process with reference to the lower classes:--
But exclusive fashion did not care to be exclusive in these practices. Sometimes a petticoat without a hoop was to be led by a bag-wig and sword to the May Fair altar, after other solicitations had been tried in vain. The virtue of the community was wonderfully supported by these easy arrangements, as Walpole tells us, in his best style:
had no lack of high example to teach her how to make a short step into the matrimonial
The Fleet Registers, and those of May Fair, are rich in the names of Honourables and even of Peers. For example:
Walpole has a pleasant comment upon this entry.
The people of rank at last grew frightened at their own practices. The Act against Clandestine Marriages came into operation on the . On the there were marriages at the Fleet entered in register; and on the same day ceremonies of the like agreeable nature took place at May Fair. After the Act was passed in there was to be all interval of some months before its enactments were to be law. Walpole says,
[n.97.1] Horace Walpole to the Miss Berrys, March 5, 1791.
[n.97.2] Horace Walpole to Conway, August 5, 1761.
[n.98.1] Horace Walpole to Montagu, Sept. 3, 1763.
[n.99.1] Horace Walpole to Montagu, March 25, 1761.
[n.101.1] Horace Walpole to Mann, Oct. 8, 1741.
[n.101.2] Dunciad, Book IV.
[n.101.3] Horace Walpole to Mann, Feb. 24, 1743.
[n.102.1] Horace Walpole to Conway, Sept. 25, 1761.
[n.102.2] Horace Walpole to Mann.
[n.102.3] Horace Walpole to Mann, March 11, 1748.
[n.103.1] Horace Walpole to Mann, November 26, 1744.
[n.103.2] Horace Walpole to Mann.
[n.103.3] London, vol. i. No. 23.
[n.103.4] Horace Walpole to Conway, June 27, 1748.
[n.103.5] Horace Walpole to Montagu, May 11, 1769.
[n.105.1] Horace Walpole to Mann.
[n.106.1] Horace Walpole to Mann, June 4,1749.
[n.106.2] Horace Walpole to Mann, January 31, 1750.
[n.106.3] Horace Walpole to Bentley, 1755 .
[n.106.4] Horace Walpole to Mann, 1748 .
[n.106.5] Horace Walpole to Mann, January 10, 1750.
[n.107.1] Horace Walpole to Montagu, May 14, 1761.
[n.107.2] Horace Walpole to Manni, April 2, 1750.
[n.107.3] Horace Walpole to Mann, September 1, 1750.
[n.108.1] Horace Walpole to Mann.
[n.108.2] Horace Walpole to Lord Hertford, March 27, 1764.
[n.109.1] Horace Walpole to Mann, March23, 1752 .
 Horace Walpole to Montagu, February 2, 1762.
[n.109.2] Horace Walpole to Conway, April 16, 1747.
[n.109.3] Horace Walpole to Mann, August 2, 1750.
[n.110.1] Horace Walpole to Mann, October 18, 1750.
[n.110.2] Horace Walpole to Mann, March 23, 1752.
[n.110.3] Daily Post, July 20, 1744; quoted in Mr. Burn's valuable work on The Fleet Registers.
[n.111.1] Daily Post, July 20, 1744; quoted in Mr. Burn's valuable work on The Fleet Registers.
[n.111.2] Horace Walpole to Montagu, Sept. 3, 1748.
[n.112.1] Horace Walpole to Mann, Feb. 27, 1752.
[n.112.2] Horace Walpole to Montagu, July 17, 1753.
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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|