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Horace Walpole, author of the Castle of Otranto, and so well known in the fashionable, gossiping, and trifling world, and not altogether unworthy of remembrance as a literary man, was thethird and youngest
of the great whig minister, Sir Robert Walpole. His mother Catherine Shorter, daughter of John Shorter, Esq., of By
GRÄNTY brook, in Kent, and grand-daughter of Sir John Shorter, Mayor of London in 1688.
Horace was born in October, 1717, and received his education at Eton, and afterwards at King's College, Cambridge. Upon leaving the University, he set out on his travels in company with Gray the poet, with whom, being much too good company for Horace, the latter contrived to pick a quarrel : The quarrel between Gray and me,” he says, "arose from his being too serious a companion. I had just broke loose from the restraints of the University, with as much money as I could spend, and I was willing to indulge myself. Gray was for antiquities, &c., while I was for perpetual balls and plays: the fault was mine."
Dr. Johnson's account of this quarrel is valuable, inasmuch as it contains a moral which may perhaps be useful to men hereafter similarly circumstanced. “When he (Gray) had been at Cambridge about five years, Mr. Horace Walpole, whose friendship he had gained at Eton, invited him to travel with him as his companion. They wandered through France into Italy; and Gray's letters contain a very pleasing account of many parts of this journey. But unequal friendships are easily dissolved: at Florence they quarrelled and parted, and Mr. Walpole is now content to have it told that it was by his fault. If we look, however, without prejudice on the world, we shall find that men, whose consciousness of their own merit sets them above the compliances of servility, are apt enough in their association with superiors to watch their own dignity with troublesome and punctilious jealousy, and in the fervour of independence to exact that attention which they refuse to pay.
Part they did, however, whatever was the quarrel; and the rest of their travels was, doubtless, more unpleasant to them both."
In Italy, Walpole's love of art, and taste for elegant and antiquarian literature, became more developed, and ultimately formed the ruling passion of his life, which circumstances happily enabled him to gratify to the utmost.
His fortune was already made—nothing remained for him but to enjoy life in whatever way he thought he could find the greatest sum of enjoyment: with the prevalent vanity among young men of rank and fortune at the present day, he was ambitious of playing at senators, and entered the House of Commons as representative of Callington, being then in his twenty-fourth year.
On a motion for an inquiry into the conduct of his father, Sir Robert, for the preceding ten years, he delivered his maiden speech, and had the honour of being complimented by no less a judge of oratory than the elder Pitt. He was merely a do-nothing member of Parliament: where he alone was active, in his exertions to save the unfortunate Admiral Byng, his humanity, at least, was laudable: soon, however, he relapsed into his constitutional indolence; his business in parliament was not to serve his country, nor even himself; his seat was a toy to play with, get tired of, and fling away. As he says himself, in a letter on his retirement, “What could I see but sons and grandsons playing over the same knaveries that I have seen their fathers and grandfathers act ? Could I hear oratory beyond my Lord Chatham's? Will there ever be parts equal to Charles Townshends? Will George Grenville ever cease to be the most tiresome of beings ?”
And now, having nothing but trifling in view as the business of life, our Walpole resolved to trifle elegantly: bit by some Goth or Vandal, he devoted the best part of his life to the collection and arrangement of whatever was curiously worthless, and for this benevolent purpose he patched, lathed and plastered the ricketty, miserable, oyster-grotto-like profanation of Gothic, called Strawberry Hill.
A place intrinsically more paltry does not exist : dirty, dingy walls, roughcasted with mortar and pebbles, and surmounted by wooden battlements, of which the founder himself survived three generations : bounded on two sides by the high road with all its dust, noise, and publicity; the rooms low, dark, and, with the exception of the long gallery, devoid of proportion ; the grounds limited to a very small space, and that limitation rendered still more conspicuous from the attempt to crowd into it temples, grottoes, and statuary ; the only merit of Strawberry Hill is one which Horace Walpole had nothing
to do, namely,—the view of the river commanded by this piece of architectural gim-crackery.
Walpole seemed altogether to forget, in what he chose to call his restoration of the pure Gothic, that the essential character of that style is grandeur and sublimity; and that, without space and magnitude, all examples of the Gothic must be contemptible. The classic styles admit of being applied to buildings, either great or small ; and are seen to equal advantage in the Temple of Minerva, or the Lanthorn of Demosthenes. But to the Gothic, breadth and altitude are essential ; and the attempt to illustrate its character and beauties in lath and plaster, at Strawberry Hill, has produced only a very ugly, fragile, and incommodious structure, destitute of either beauty or sublimity.
At this place Walpole formed a museum of nick-nacks, rarities, and curiosities, lately dispersed by public auction, and of which the recollection is so recent in the public mind, that it would be tedious to repeat the particulars; it will be enough to say that the collection contained examples, many of considerable value, in every department of the fine arts; missals of great beauty; sculptures on silver and steel of Benvenuto Cellini ; miniatures of eminent persons, many original, and therefore priceless : marbles and bronzes of exquisite workmanship; an indifferent collection of coins ; another of books, still less valuable ; a few good, some bad, many indifferent pictures ; numberless nick-nackeries, and a profusion of painted and enamelled crockery.
To the collection of this heterogeneous mass the future life of Walpole was mainly devoted : for this he expended his time in haunting the auctionrooms, the galleries of picture-dealers, the traders in old china and cognoscenti ; to the enlargement of this collection, the proceeds of the sinecure places he enjoyed through the bounty of his father, were barely sufficient.
The most valuable curiosity in the collection of this agreeable trifler, and that of which he made the best use, was a printing-press. When his talents were employed on subjects worthy them and himself, Walpole appears to advantage; for his Gothic romance, Sir Walter Scott claims the rare merit of high originality; "it is remarkable,” says that great writer, “not only for the wild interest of its story, but as the first modern attempt to found a tale of amusing fiction upon the basis of the ancient romances of chivalry. This romance has been justly considered as not only the original and model of a peculiar species of composition, attempted and successfully
executed by a man of great genius, but as one of the standard works of our lighter literature. Horace Walpole, who led the way in this new species of literary composition, has been surpassed by some of his followers in diffuse brilliancy of composition, and perhaps in the art of detaining the mind of the reader in a state of feverish and anxious suspense; through a protracted and complicated narrative, more will yet remain with him than the single merit of originality and invention. The applause due to chastity of style, to a happy combination of supernatural agency with human interest, to a tone of feudal manners and language, sustained by characters strongly marked and well discriminated, and to unity of action, producing scenes alternately of interest and grandeur—the applause, in fine, which cannot be denied to him who can excite the passions of fear and pity, must be awarded to the author of the Castle of Otranto."
At his Strawberry Hill press were printed, also, his “Anecdotes of Painting, Engraving, and the Arts in England ;” “Historic Doubts of the Life and Reign of Richard III.," a work that excited in its time much attention; “ The Mysterious Mother," a tragedy; “A Catalogue of the Royal and Noble Authors of England;” “Ædes Walpoliana, or a Description of the House of Sir Robert Walpole, at Houghton;" with others of less importance, but sought after with avidity by bibliomaniacs, for the peculiarity of their production.
But it is upon his Letters chiefly that the posthumous fame of Walpole rests: he was a gossip of the first order ; "his epistolary talents," as Miss Berry has said, “have shown our language to be capable of all the grace and all the charms of the French of Madame de Sévigné;" and if to tittletattle upon paper gracefully be a merit, Horace Walpole cannot be denied to have attained that flattering distinction.
In the year 1791 he succeeded his nephew in the earldom of Orford; but never took his seat in the House. Lord Orford died in the eightieth year of his age, at his house in Berkeley-square, on the 2nd of March, 1797, and was buried in the family vault at Houghton. In him terminated the male line of the descendants of Sir Robert Walpole.
On the western verge of this parish, towards Teddington, is a pretty spot called Little Strawberry Hill, once the residence of the celebrated actress Mrs. Clive; to whose memory an urn, graced by a few couplets of no extraordinary excellence, from the pen of Horace Walpole, is placed in the grounds.
Teddington is a pretty retired spot, twelve miles from London, and a
mile and a half from Twickenham. The manor house stands upon the site of a former mansion built by Lord Buckhurst, in 1602. The great Earl of Leicester is said to have resided for a time at Teddington; as did also William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, about the year 1688. Near the communion-table in the church is the monument of Sir Orlando Bridgeman, Solicitor-General to Charles I., and in the reign of Charles II. Chief Baron of Exchequer and Keeper of the Great Seal, of which he was very properly deprived in 1672, for refusing to affix it to a declaration for liberty of conscience in matters of religion. Dr. Stephen Hales, the naturalist and experimental philosopher, and well known to the scientific world by his treatise on Vegetable Statics, was curate of this parish, and died here.
Paul Whitehead, the poet, was buried at Teddington with much ceremony. Whitehead distinguished himself more as a partisan than a poet; attaching himself to the Prince of Wales's party, he became a violent patriot, the champion and bard of Leicester House. When his patron, Lord Despencer, came into power, he accepted a lucrative place, which subjected him to much censure and ridicule from those with whom he had formerly acted in opposition to the Court.
Richard Bentley, son of the learned Dr. Bentley, was buried here. In conjunction with Horace Walpole, Mr. Bentley planned many of the architectural decorations of Strawberry Hill, and gave frontispieces and vignettes to an edition of the works of the poet Gray.
Teddington is a favourite resort of anglers, who find this a favourable spot for pursuing their tranquil sport : the air is pure and mild, and the situation delightful.
Here is the first lock in the Thames navigation : the fall of water over