WITS AND BEAUX OF SOCIETY
GRACE AND PHILIP WHARTON
JUSTIN HUNTLY MCCARTHY, M. P.
And the original illustrations by
H. K. BROWNE AND JAMES GODWIN
TWO VOLS.—VOL. II.
CONTENTS VOL. II.
The Commoners of England.—Horace's Regret for the Death of his Mother.— Little Horace in Arlington Street.—Introduced to George I.— Characteristic Anecdote of George I.—Walpole's Education.—Schoolboy Days.— Boyish Friendships.—Companionship of Gray.—A Dreary Doom.— Walpole's Description of Youthful Delights.—Anecdote of Pope and Frederic of Wales.—The Pomfrets.—Sir Thomas Robinson's Ball.—An Admirable Scene.—Political Squibs.—Sir Robert's Retirement from Office.—The Splendid Mansion of Houghton.—Sir Robert's Love of Gardening.—What we owe to the 'Grandes Tours.'—George Vertue.—Men of One Idea.—The Noble Picture-gallery at Houghton.—The 'Market Pieces.'— Sir Robert's Death.—The Granville Faction.—A very good Quarrel.— Twickenham.— Strawberry Hill.—The Recluse of Strawberry.—Portraits of the Digby Family.—Sacrilege.—Mrs. Darner's Models.—The Long Gallery at Strawberry.— The Chapel.—'A Dirty Little Thing.'—The Society around Strawberry Hill.—Anne Seymour Conway.—A Man who never Doubted.—Lady Sophia Fermer's Marriage.—Horace in Favour.—Anecdote of Sir William Stanhope.—A Paper House.—Walpole's Habits.—Why did he not Marry?— 'Dowagers as Plenty as Flounders.'—Catherine Hyde, Duchess of Queensberry.—Anecdote of Lady Granville.—Kitty Clive.—Death of Horatio Walpole.—George, third Earl of Orford.—A Visit to Houghton.—Family Misfortunes.—Poor Chatterton.—Walpole's Concern with Chatterton.— Walpole in Paris.—Anecdote of Madame Geoffrin.—'Who's that Mr. Walpole?'— The Miss Berrys.—Horace's two 'Straw Berries.'—Tapping a New Reign.—The Sign of the Gothic Castle.—Growing Old with Dignity.— Succession to an Earldom.—Walpole's Last Hours.—Let us not be Ungrateful.
A Love of Horrors.—Anecdotes of Selwyn's Mother.—Selwyn's College Days.—Orator Henley.—Selwyn's Blasphemous Freak.—The Profession of a Wit.—The Thirst for Hazard.—Reynolds's Conversation-Piece.—Selwyn's Eccentricities and Witticisms.—A most Important Communication.—An Amateur Headsman.—The Eloquence of Indifference.—Catching a Housebreaker.—The Family of the Selwyns.—The Man of the People.— Selwyn's Parliamentary Career.—True Wit.—Some of Selwyn's Witty Sayings.—The Sovereignty of the People.—On two kinds of Wit.—Selwyn's Home for Children.—Mie-Mie, the Little Italian.—Selwyn's Little Companion taken from him.—His Later Days and Death.
RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN.
Sheridan a Dunce.—Boyish Dreams of Literary Fame.—Sheridan in Love.—A Nest of Nightingales.—The 'Maid of Bath.'—Captivated by Genius.— Sheridan's Elopement with 'Cecilia.'—His Duel with Captain Matthews.— Standards of Ridicule.—Painful Family Estrangements.—Enters Drury Lane.—Success of the Famous 'School for Scandal.'—Opinions of Sheridan and his Influence.—The Literary Club.—Anecdote of Garrick's Admittance.—Origin of the 'Rejected Addresses.'—New Flights.—Political Ambition.—The Gaming Mania.—Almacks'.—Brookes'.—Black-balled.—Two Versions of the Election Trick.—St. Stephen's Won.—Vocal Difficulties.— Leads a Double Life.—Pitt's Vulgar Attack.—Sheridan's Happy Retort— Grattan's Quip.—Sheridan's Sallies.—The Trial of Warren Hastings.— Wonderful Effect of Sheridan's Eloquence.—The Supreme Effort.—The Star Culminates.—Native Taste for Swindling.—A Shrewd but Graceless Oxonian.—Duns Outwitted.—The Lawyer Jockeyed.—Adventures with Bailiffs.—Sheridan's Powers of Persuasion.—House of Commons Greek.— Curious Mimicry.—The Royal Boon Company.—Street Frolics at Night.— An Old Tale.—'All's well that ends well.'—The Fray in St. Giles'.— Unopened Letters.—An Odd Incident.—Reckless Extravagance,—Sporting Ambition.—Like Father like Son.—A Severe and Witty Rebuke.— Intemperance.—Convivial Excesses of a Past Day.—Worth wins at last.— Bitter Pangs.—The Scythe of Death.—Sheridan's Second Wife.—Debts of Honour.—Drury Lane Burnt.—The Owner's Serenity.—Misfortunes never come Singly.—The Whitbread Quarrel.—Ruined.—Undone and almost Forsaken.— The Dead Man Arrested.—The Stories fixed on Sheridan.—Extempore Wit and Inveterate Talkers.
Two popular Sciences.—'Buck Brummell' at Eton.—Investing his Capital.— Young Cornet Brummell.—The Beau's Studio.—The Toilet.—'Creasing Down.'—Devotion to Dress.—A Great Gentleman.—Anecdotes of Brummell.— 'Don't forget, Brum: Goose at Four'—Offers of Intimacy resented.— Never in love.—Brummell out Hunting.—Anecdote of Sheridan and Brummell.—The Beau's Poetical Efforts.—The Value of a Crooked Sixpence.—The Breach with the Prince of Wales.—'Who's your Fat Friend?'—The Climax is reached.—The Black-mail of Calais.—George the Greater and George the Less.—An Extraordinary Step.—Down the Hill of Life.—A Miserable Old Age.—In the Hospice Du Bon Sauveur.—O Young Men of this Age, be warned!
THEODORE EDWARD HOOK.
The Greatest of Modern Wits.—What Coleridge said of Hook.—Hook's Family.—Redeeming Points.—Versatility.—Varieties of Hoaxing.—The Black-wafered Horse.—The Berners Street Hoax.—Success of the Scheme.— The Strop of Hunger.—Kitchen Examinations.—The Wrong House.—Angling for an Invitation.—The Hackney-coach Device.—The Plots of Hook and Mathews.—Hook's Talents as an Improvisatore.—The Gift becomes his Bane.—Hook's Novels.—College Fun.—Baiting a Proctor.—The Punning Faculty.—Official Life Opens.—Troublesome Pleasantry.—Charge of Embezzlement.—Misfortune.—Doubly Disgraced.—No Effort to remove the Stain.—Attacks on the Queen.—An Incongruous Mixture.—Specimen of the Ramsbottom Letters.—Hook's Scurrility.—-Fortune and Popularity.— The End.
The 'Wise Wit.'—Oddities of the Father.—Verse-making at Winchester.— Curate Life on Salisbury Plain.—Old Edinburgh.—Its Social and Architectural Features.—Making Love Metaphysically.—The Old Scottish Supper.—The Men of Mark passing away.—The Band of Young Spirits.— Brougham's Early Tenacity.—Fitting up Conversations.—'Old School' Ceremonies.—The Speculative Society.—A Brilliant Set.—Sydney's Opinion of his Friends.—Holland House.—Preacher at the 'Foundling.'—Sydney's 'Grammar of Life.'—The Picture Mania.—A Living Comes at Last.—The Wit's Ministry.—The Parsonage House at Foston-le-Clay.—Country Quiet.— The Universal Scratcher.—Country Life and Country Prejudice.—The Genial Magistrate.—Glimpse of Edinburgh Society.—Mrs. Grant of Laggan.— A Pension Difficulty.—Jeffrey and Cockburn.—Craigcrook.—Sydney Smith's Cheerfulness.—His Rheumatic Armour.—No Bishopric.—Becomes Canon of St. Paul's.—Anecdotes of Lord Dudley.—A Sharp Reproof.— Sydney's Classification of Society.—Last Strokes of Humour.
GEORGE BUBB DODINGTON, LORD MELCOMBE.
A Dinner-giving lordly Poet.—A Misfortune for a Man of Society.— Brandenburgh House.—'The Diversions of the Morning.'—Johnson's Opinion of Foote.—Churchill and 'The Rosciad.'—Personal Ridicule in its Proper Light.—Wild Specimen of the Poet.—Walpole on Dodington's 'Diary.'— The best Commentary on a Man's Life.—Leicester House.—Grace Boyle.— Elegant Modes of passing Time.—A sad Day.—What does Dodington come here for?—The Veteran Wit, Beau, and Politician.—'Defend us from our Executors and Editors.'
SUBJECTS OF THE ILLUSTRATIONS
"WHO'S YOUR FAT FRIEND?"
STRAWBERRY HILL FROM THE THAMES
SELWYN ACKNOWLEDGES "THE SOVEREIGNTY OF THE PEOPLE"
THE FAMOUS "LITERARY CLUB"
A TREASURE FOR A LADY—SHERIDAN AND THE LAWYER
THEODORE HOOK'S ENGINEERING FROLIC
SYDNEY SMITH'S WITTY ANSWER TO THE OLD PARISH CLERK
The Commoners of England.—Horace's Regret for the Death of his Mother.— 'Little Horace' in Arlington Street.—Introduced to George I.— Characteristic Anecdote of George I.—Walpole's Education.—Schoolboy Days.—Boyish Friendships.—Companionship of Gray.—A Dreary Doom.— Walpole's Description of Youthful Delights.—Anecdote of Pope and Frederic of Wales.—The Pomfrets.—Sir Thomas Robinson's Ball.—An Admirable Scene.—Political Squibs.—Sir Robert's Retirement from Office.—The Splendid Mansion of Houghton.—Sir Robert's Love of Gardening.—What we owe to the 'Grandes Tours.'—George Vertue.—Men of One Idea.—The Noble Picture-gallery at Houghton.—The 'Market Pieces.'— Sir Robert's Death.—The Granville Faction.—A very good Quarrel.— Twickenham.—Strawberry Hill.—The Recluse of Strawberry.—Portraits of the Digby Family.—Sacrilege.—Mrs. Darner's Models.—The Long Gallery at Strawberry.—The Chapel.—'A Dirty Little Thing.'—The Society around Strawberry Hill.—Anne Seymour Conway.—A Man who never Doubted.—Lady Sophia Fermor's Marriage.—Horace in Favour.—Anecdote of Sir William Stanhope.—A Paper House.—Walpole's Habits.—Why did he not Marry?— 'Dowagers as Plenty as Flounders.'—Catherine Hyde, Duchess of Queensberry.—Anecdote of Lady Granville.—Kitty Clive.—Death of Horatio Walpole.—George, third Earl of Orford.—A Visit to Houghton.—Family Misfortunes.—Poor Chatterton.—Walpole's Concern with Chatterton.— Walpole in Paris.—Anecdote of Madame Geoffrin.—'Who's that Mr. Walpole?'—The Miss Berrys.—Horace's two 'Straw Berries.'—Tapping a New Reign.—The Sign of the Gothic Castle.—Growing Old with Dignity.— Succession to an Earldom.—Walpole's Last Hours.—Let us not be Ungrateful.
Had this elegant writer, remarks the compiler of 'Walpoliana,' composed memoirs of his own life, an example authorized by eminent names, ancient and modern, every other pen must have been dropped in despair, so true was it that 'he united the good sense of Fontenelle with the Attic salt and graces of Count Anthony Hamilton.'
But 'Horace' was a man of great literary modesty, and always undervalued his own efforts. His life was one of little incident: it is his character, his mind, the society around him, the period in which he shone, that give the charm to his correspondence, and the interest to his biography.
Besides, he had the weakness common to several other fine gentlemen who have combined letters and haut ton, of being ashamed of the literary character. The vulgarity of the court, its indifference to all that was not party writing, whether polemical or political, cast a shade over authors in his time.
Never was there, beneath all his assumed Whig principles, a more profound aristocrat than Horace Walpole. He was, by birth, one of those well-descended English gentlemen who have often scorned the title of noble, and who have repudiated the notion of merging their own ancient names in modern titles. The commoners of England hold a proud pre-eminence. When some low-born man entreated James I. to make him a gentleman, the well-known answer was, 'Na, na, I canna! I could mak thee a lord, but none but God Almighty can mak a gentleman.'
Sir Robert Walpole, afterwards minister to George II., and eventually Lord Orford, belonged to an ancient family in Norfolk; he was a third son, and was originally destined for the Church, but the death of his elder brethren having left him heir to the family estate, in 1698, he succeeded to a property which ought to have yielded him L2,000 a year, but which was crippled with various encumbrances. In order to relieve himself of these, Sir Robert married Catherine Shorter, the granddaughter of Sir John Shorter, who had been illegally and arbitrarily appointed Lord Mayor of London by James II.
Horace was her youngest child, and was born in Arlington Street, on the 24th of September, 1717, O.S. Six years afterwards he was inoculated for the small-pox, a precaution which he records as worthy of remark, since the operation had then only recently been introduced by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu from Turkey.
He is silent, however, naturally enough, as to one important point—his real parentage. The character of his mother was by no means such as to disprove an assertion which gained general belief: this was, that Horace was the offspring, not of Sir Robert Walpole, but of Carr, Lord Hervey, the eldest son of the Earl of Bristol, and the elder brother of Lord Hervey, whose 'Memoirs of the Court of George II.' are so generally known.
Carr, Lord Hervey, was witty, eccentric, and sarcastic: and from him Horace Walpole is said to have inherited his wit, his eccentricity, his love of literature, and his profound contempt for all mankind, excepting only a few members of a cherished and exclusive clique.
In the Notes of his life which Horace Walpole left for the use of his executor, Robert Berry, Esq., and of his daughter, Miss Berry, he makes this brief mention of Lady Walpole:—'My mother died in 1737.' He was then twenty years of age.
But beneath this seemingly slight recurrence to his mother, a regret which never left him through life was buried. Like Cowper, he mourned, as the profoundest of all sorrows, the loss of that life-long friend.
'My mother, when I learn'd that thou wast dead, Say, wast thou conscious of the tears I shed? Hovered thy spirit o'er thy sorrowing son? Wretch even then, life's journey just begun.'
Although Horace in many points bore a strong resemblance to Sir Robert Walpole, he rarely if ever received from that jovial, heartless, able man, any proof of affection. An outcast from his father's heart, the whole force of the boy's love centred in his mother; yet in after-life no one reverenced Sir Robert Walpole so much as his supposed son. To be adverse to the minister was to be adverse to the unloved son who cherished his memory. What 'my father' thought, did, and said, was law; what his foes dared to express was heresy. Horace had the family mania strong upon him; the world was made for Walpoles, whose views were never to be controverted, nor whose faith impugned. Yet Horace must have witnessed, perhaps with out comprehending it, much disunion at home. Lady Walpole. beautiful and accomplished, could not succeed in riveting her husband to his conjugal duties. Gross licentiousness was the order of the day, and Sir Robert was among the most licentious; he left his lovely wife to the perilous attentions of all the young courtiers who fancied that by courting the Premier's wife they could secure Walpole's good offices. Sir Robert, according to Pope, was one of those who—
'Never made a friend in private life, And was, besides, a tyrant to his wife.
At all events, if not a tyrant, he was indifferent to those circumstances which reflected upon him, and were injurious to her. He was conscious that he had no right to complain of any infidelity on her part, and he left her to be surrounded by men whom he knew to be profligates of the most dangerous pretensions to wit and elegance.
It was possibly not unfrequently that Horace, his mother's pet, gleaned in the drawing-rooms of Arlington Street his first notions of that persiflage which was the fashion of the day. We. can fancy him a precocious, old-fashioned little boy, at his mother's apron-string, whilst Carr, Lord Hervey, was paying his devoirs; we see him gazing with wondering eyes at Pulteney, Earl of Bath, with his blue ribbon across his laced coat; whilst compassionating friends observing the pale-faced boy in that hot-house atmosphere, in which both mind and body were like forced plants, prophesied that 'little Horace' could not possibly live to be a man.
He survived, however, two sisters, who died in childhood, and became dearer and dearer to his fond mother.
In his old age, Horace delighted in recalling anecdotes of his infancy; in these his mother's partiality largely figured. Brought up among courtiers and ministers, his childish talk was all of kings and princes; and he was a gossip both by inclination and habit. His greatest desire in life was to see the king—George I., and his nurses and attendants augmented his wish by their exalted descriptions of the grandeur which he effected, in after-life, to despise. He entreated his mother to take him to St. James's. When relating the incidents of the scene in which he was first introduced to a court, Horace Walpole speaks of the 'infinite good-nature of his father, who never thwarted any of his children,' and 'suffered him,' he says, 'to be too much indulged.'
Some difficulties attended the fruition of the forward boy's wish. The Duchess of Kendal was jealous of Sir Robert Walpole's influence with the king: her aim was to bring Lord Bolingbroke into power. The childish fancy was, nevertheless, gratified: and under his mother's care he was conducted to the apartments of the Duchess of Kendal in St. James's.
'A favour so unusual to be asked by a boy of ten years old,' he afterwards wrote in his 'Reminiscences,' 'was still too slight to be refused to the wife of the first minister and her darling child.' However, as it was not to be a precedent, the interview was to be private, and at night.
It was ten o'clock in the evening when Lady Walpole, leading her son, was admitted into the apartments of Melusina de Schulenberg, Countess of Walsingham, who passed under the name of the Duchess of Kendal's niece, but who was, in fact, her daughter, by George I. The polluted rooms in which Lady Walsingham lived were afterwards occupied by the two mistresses of George II.—the Countess of Suffolk, and Madame de Walmoden, Countess of Yarmouth.
With Lady Walsingham, Lady Walpole and her little son waited until, notice having been given that the king had come down to supper, he was led into the presence of 'that good sort of man,' as he calls George I. That monarch was pleased to permit the young courtier to kneel down and kiss his hand. A few words were spoken by the august personage, and Horace was led back into the adjoining room.
But the vision of that 'good sort of man' was present to him when, in old age, he wrote down his recollections for his beloved Miss Berry. By the side of a tall, lean, ill-favoured old German lady—the Duchess of Kendal—stood a pale, short, elderly man, with a dark tie-wig, in a plain coat and waistcoat: these and his breeches were all of snuff-coloured cloth, and his stockings of the same colour. By the blue riband alone could the young subject of this 'good sort of man' discern that he was in the presence of majesty. Little interest could be elicited in this brief interview, yet Horace thought it his painful duty, being also the son of a prime minister, to shed tears when, with the other scholars of Eton College, he walked in the procession to the proclamation of George II. And no doubt he was one of very few personages in England whose eyes Were moistened for that event. Nevertheless, there was something of bonhommie in the character of George I. that one misses in his successor. His love of punch, and his habit of becoming a little tipsy over his private dinners with Sir Robert Walpole, were English as well as German traits, and were regarded almost as condescensions; and then he had a kind of slow wit, that was turned upon the venial officials whose perquisites were at their disgraceful height in his time.
'A strange country this,' said the monarch, in his most clamorous German: 'one day, after I came to St. James's, I looked out of the window, and saw a park, with walks, laurels, &c.; these they told me were mine. The next day Lord Chetwynd, the ranger of my park, sends me a brace of carp out of my canal; I was told, thereupon, that I must give five guineas to Lord Chetwynd's porter for bringing me my own fish, out of my own canal, in my own park!' In spite of some agreeable qualities, George I. was, however, anything but a 'good sort of man.' It is difficult how to rank the two first Georges; both were detestable as men, and scarcely tolerable as monarchs. The foreign deeds of George I. were stained with the supposed murder of Count Konigsmark: the English career of George II. was one of the coarsest profligacy. Their example was infamous.
His father's only sister having become the second wife of Charles Lord Townshend, Horace was educated with his cousins; and the tutor selected was Edward Weston, the son of Stephen, Bishop of Exeter; this preceptor was afterwards engaged in a controversy with Dr. Warburton, concerning the 'Naturalization of the Jews.' By that learned, haughty disputant, he is termed 'a gazetteer by profession—by inclination a Methodist.' Such was the man who guided the dawning intellect of Horace Walpole. Under his care he remained until he went, in 1727, to Eton. But Walpole's was not merely a scholastic education: he was destined for the law—and, on going up to Cambridge, was obliged to attend lectures on civil law. He went from Eton to King's College—where he was, however, more disposed to what are termed accomplishments than to deep reading. At Cambridge he even studied Italian; at home he learned to dance and fence; and took lessons in drawing from Bernard Lens, drawing-master to the Duke of Cumberland and his sisters. It is not to be wondered at that he left Cambridge without taking a degree.
But fortune was lying, as it were, in wait for him; and various sinecures had been reserved for the Minister's youngest son: first, he became Inspector of the Imports and Exports in the Customs; but soon resigned that post to be Usher of the Exchequer. 'And as soon,' he writes, 'as I became of age I took possession of two other little patent places in the Exchequer, called Comptroller of the Pipe, and Clerk of the Estreats. They had been held for me by Mr. Fane.'
Such was the mode in which the younger sons were then provided for by a minister; nor has the unworthy system died out in our time, although greatly modified.
Horace was growing up meantime, not an awkward, but a somewhat insignificant youth, with a short, slender figure: which always retained a boyish appearance when seen from behind. His face was common-place, except when his really expressive eyes sparkled with intelligence, or melted into the sweetest expression of kindness. But his laugh was forced and uncouth: and even in his smile there was a hard, sarcastic expression that made one regret that he smiled.
He was now in possession of an income of L1,700 annually, and he looked naturally to the Continent, to which all young members of the aristocracy repaired, after the completion of their collegiate life.
He had been popular at Eton: he was also, it is said, both beloved and valued at Cambridge. In reference to his Etonian days he says, in one of his letters, 'I can't say I am sorry I was never quite a schoolboy: an expedition against bargemen, or a match at cricket, may be very pretty things to recollect; but, thank my stars, I can remember things that are very near as pretty. The beginning of my Roman history was spent in the asylum, or conversing in Egeria's hallowed grove; not in thumping and pummelling King Amulius's herdsmen.
[1: Life by Warburton, p 70.]
'I remember,' he adds, 'when I was at Eton, and Mr. Bland had set me on an extraordinary task, I used sometimes to pique myself upon not getting it, because it was not immediately my school business. What! learn more than I was absolutely forced to learn! I felt the weight of learning that; for I was a blockhead, and pushed above my parts.'
[2: Life of Warburton, p. 63.]
Popular amongst his schoolfellows, Horace formed friendships at Eton which mainly influenced his after-life. Richard West, the son of West, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, and the grandson, on his mother's side, of Bishop Burnet; together with a youth named Assheton—formed, with the poet Gray, and Horace himself, what the young wit termed the 'Quadruple Alliance.' Then there was the 'triumvirate,' George Montagu, Charles Montagu, and Horace: next came George Selwyn and Hanbury Williams; lastly, a retired, studious youth, a sort of foil to all these gay, brilliant young wits—a certain William Cole, a lover of old books, and of quaint prints. And in all these boyish friendships, some of which were carried from Eton to Cambridge, may be traced the foundation of the Horace Walpole, of Strawberry Hill and of Berkeley Square. To Gray he owed his ambition to be learned, if possible—poetical, if nature had not forbidden; to the Montagus, his dash and spirit; to Sir Hanbury Williams, his turn for jeux d'esprit, as a part of the completion of a fine gentleman's education; to George Selwyn, his appreciation of what was then considered wit—but which we moderns are not worthy to appreciate. Lord Hertford and Henry Conway, Walpole's cousins, were also his schoolfellows; and for them he evinced throughout his long life a warm regard. William Pitt, Lord Chatham—chiefly remembered at Eton for having been flogged for being out of bounds—was a contemporary, though not an intimate, of Horace Walpole's at Eton.
His regard for Gray did him infinite credit: yet never were two men more dissimilar as they advanced in life. Gray had no aristocratic birth to boast; and Horace dearly loved birth, refinement, position, all that comprises the cherished term 'aristocracy.' Thomas Gray, more illustrious for the little his fastidious judgment permitted him to give to the then critical world, than many have been in their productions of volumes, was born in Cornhill—his father being a worthy citizen. He was just one year older than Walpole, but an age his senior in gravity, precision, and in a stiff resolution to maintain his independence. He made one fatal step, fatal to his friendship for Horace, when he forfeited—by allowing Horace to take him and pay his expenses during a long continental tour—his independence. Gray had many points which made him vulnerable to Walpole's shafts of ridicule; and Horace had a host of faults which excited the stern condemnation of Gray. The author of the 'Elegy'—which Johnson has pronounced to be the noblest ode in our language—was one of the most learned men of his time, 'and was equally acquainted with the elegant and profound paths of science, and that not superficially, but thoroughly; knowing in every branch of history, both natural and civil, as having read all the original historians of England, France, and Italy; a great antiquarian, who made criticisms, metaphysics, morals, and politics a principal part of his plan of study—who was uncommonly fond of voyages and travels of all sorts—and who had a fine taste in painting, prints, architecture, and gardening' What a companion for a young man of taste and sympathy! but the friends were far too clever long to agree. Gray was haughty, impatient, intolerant of the peculiarities of others, according to the author of 'Walpoliana:' doubtless he detected the vanity, the actual selfishness, the want of earnest feeling in Horace, which had all been kept down at school, where boys are far more unsparing Mentors than their betters. In vain did they travel en prince, and all at Walpole's expense; in vain did they visit courts, and receive affability from princes: in vain did he of Cornhill participate for a brief period in the attentions lavished on the son of a British Prime Minister: they quarrelled—and we almost reverence Gray for that result, more especially when we find the author of 'Walpoliana' expressing his conviction that 'had it not been for this idle indulgence of his hasty temper, Mr. Gray would immediately on his return home have received, as usual, a pension or office from Sir Robert Walpole.' We are inclined to feel contempt for the anonymous writer of that amusing little book.
After a companionship of four years, Gray, nevertheless, returned to London. He had been educated with the expectation of being a barrister; but finding that funds were wanting to pursue a legal education, he gave up a set of chambers in the Temple, which he had occupied previous to his travels, and retired to Cambridge.
Henceforth what a singular contrast did the lives of these once fond friends present! In the small, quaint rooms of Peter-House, Gray consumed a dreary celibacy, consoled by the Muse alone, who—if other damsels found no charms in his somewhat piggish, wooden countenance, or in his manners, replete, it is said, with an unpleasant consciousness of superiority—never deserted him. His college existence, varied only by his being appointed Professor of Modern History, was, for a brief space, exchanged for an existence almost as studious in London. Between the years 1759 and 1762, he took lodgings, we find, in Southampton Row—a pleasant locality then, opening to the fields—in order to be near the British Museum, at that time just opened to the public. Here his intense studies were, it may be presumed, relieved by the lighter task of perusing the Harleian Manuscripts; and here he formed the acquaintance of Mason, a dull, affected poet, whose celebrity is greater as the friend and biographer of Gray, than even as the author of those verses on the death of Lady Coventry, in which there are, nevertheless, some beautiful lines. Gray died in college—a doom that, next to ending one's days in a jail or a convent, seems the dreariest. He died of the gout: a suitable, and, in that region and in those three-bottle days, almost an inevitable disease; but there is no record of his having been intemperate.
[3: Gray migrated to Pembroke in 1756.]
Whilst Gray was poring over dusty manuscripts, Horace was beginning that career of prosperity which was commenced by the keenest enjoyment of existence. He has left us, in his Letters, some brilliant passages, indicative of the delights of his boyhood and youth. Like him, we linger over a period still fresh, still hopeful, still generous in impulse— still strong in faith in the world's worth—before we hasten on to portray the man of the world, heartless, not wholly, perhaps, but wont to check all feeling till it was well-nigh quenched; little minded; bitter, if not spiteful; with many acquaintances and scarce one friend—the Horace Walpole of Berkeley Square and Strawberry Hill.
'Youthful passages of life are,' he says, 'the chippings of Pitt's diamond, set into little heart-rings with mottoes; the stone itself more worth, the filings more gentle and agreeable. Alexander, at the head of the world, never tasted the true pleasure that boys of his age have enjoyed at the head of a school. Little intrigues, little schemes and policies engage their thoughts; and at the same time that they are laying the foundation for their middle age of life, the mimic republic they live in, furnishes materials of conversation for their latter age; and old men cannot be said to be children a second time with greater truth from any one cause, than their living over again their childhood in imagination.'
Again: 'Dear George, were not the playing-fields at Eton food for all manner of flights? No old maid's gown, though it had been tormented into all the fashions from King James to King George, ever underwent so many transformations as these poor plains have in my idea. At first I was contented with tending a visionary flock, and sighing some pastoral name to the echo of the cascade under the bridge ... As I got further into Virgil and Clelia, I found myself transported from Arcadia to the garden of Italy; and saw Windsor Castle in no other view than the Capitoli immobile saxum.'
Horace Walpole's humble friend Assheton was another of those Etonians who were plodding on to independence, whilst he, set forward by fortune and interest, was accomplishing reputation. Assheton was the son of a worthy man, who presided over the Grammar School at Lancaster, upon a stipend of L32 a year. Assheton's mother had brought to her husband a small estate. This was sold to educate the 'boys:' they were both clever and deserving. One became the fellow of Trinity College; the other, the friend of Horace, rose into notice as the tutor of the young Earl of Plymouth; then became a D.D., and a fashionable preacher in London; was elected preacher at Lincoln's Inn; attacked the Methodists; and died, at fifty-three, at variance with Horace—this Assheton, whom once he had loved so much.
Horace, on the other hand, after having seen during his travels all that was most exclusive, attractive, and lofty, both in art and nature, came home without bringing, he declares, 'one word of French or Italian for common use.' He professed, indeed, to prefer England to all other countries. A country tour in England delighted him: the populousness, the ease in the people also, charmed him. 'Canterbury was a paradise to Modena, Reggio, or Parma.' He had, before he returned, perceived that nowhere except in England was there the distinction of 'middling people;' he now found that nowhere but in England were middling houses. 'How snug they are!' exclaims this scion of the exclusives. Then he runs on into an anecdote about Pope and Frederick, Prince of Wales. 'Mr. Pope, said the prince, 'you don't love princes.' 'Sir, I beg your pardon.' 'Well, you don't love kings, then.' 'Sir, I own I like the lion better before his claws are grown.' The 'Horace Walpole' began now to creep out: never was he really at home except in a court atmosphere. Still he assumed, even at twenty-four, to be the boy.
'You won't find me,' he writes to Harry Conway, 'much altered, I believe; at least, outwardly. I am not grown a bit shorter or fatter, but am just the same long, lean creature as usual. Then I talk no French but to my footman; nor Italian, but to myself. What inward alterations may have happened to me you will discover best; for you know 'tis said, one never knows that one's self. I will answer, that that part of it that belongs to you has not suffered the least change—I took care of that. For virtu, I have a little to entertain you—it is my sole pleasure. I am neither young enough nor old enough to be in love.'
Nevertheless, it peeps out soon after that the 'Pomfrets' are coming back. Horace had known them in Italy. The Earl and Countess and their daughters were just then the very pink of fashion; and even the leaders of all that was exclusive in the court. Half in ridicule, half in earnest, are the remarks which, throughout all the career of Horace, incessantly occur. 'I am neither young enough nor old enough to be in love,' he says; yet that he was in love with one of the lovely Fermors is traditionary still in the family—and that tradition pointed at Lady Juliana, the youngest, afterwards married to Mr. Penn. The Earl of Pomfret had been master of the horse to Queen Caroline: Lady Pomfret, lady of the bed-chamber. 'My Earl,' as the-countess styled him, was apparently a supine subject to her ladyship's strong will and wrong-headed ability—which she, perhaps, inherited from her grandfather, Judge Jeffreys; she being the daughter and heiress of that rash young Lord Jeffreys, who, in a spirit of braggadocia, stopped the funeral of Dryden on its way to Westminster, promising a more splendid procession than the poor, humble cortege—a boast which he never fulfilled. Lady Sophia Fermor, the eldest daughter, who afterwards became the wife of Lord Carteret, resembled, in beauty, the famed Mistress Arabella Fermor, the heroine of the 'Rape of the Lock.' Horace Walpole admired Lady Sophia—whom he christened Juno—intensely. Scarcely a letter drips from his pen—as a modern novelist used to express it—without some touch of the Pomfrets. Thus to Sir Horace Mann, then a diplomatist at Florence:—
[4: The accomplished novelist, Mrs. Gore, famous for her facility, used to say that a three-volume novel just 'dripped from her pen.']
'Lady Pomfret I saw last night. Lady Sophia has been ill with a cold; her head is to be dressed French, and her body English, for which I am sorry, her figure is so fine in a robe. She is full as sorry as I am.'
Again, at a ball at Sir Thomas Robinson's, where four-and-twenty couples danced country-dances, in two sets, twelve and twelve, 'there was Lady Sophia, handsomer than ever, but a little out of humour at the scarcity of minuets; however, as usual, dancing more than anybody, and, as usual too, she took out what men she liked, or thought the best dancers.'...'We danced; for I country-danced till four, then had tea and coffee, and came home.' Poor Horace! Lady Sophia was not for a younger son, however gay, talented, or rich he might be.
His pique and resentment towards her mother, who had higher views for her beautiful daughter, begin at this period to show themselves, and never died away.
Lady Townshend was the wit who used to gratify Horace with tales of her whom he hated—Henrietta-Louisa, Countess of Pomfret.
'Lady Townshend told me an admirable history: it is of our friend Lady Pomfret. Somebody that belonged to the Prince of Wales said, they were going to court; it was objected that they ought to say to Carlton House; that the only court is where the king resides. Lady P., with her paltry air of significant learning and absurdity, said, "Oh, Lord! Is there no court in England but the king's? Sure, there are many more! There is the Court of Chancery, the Court of Exchequer, the Court of King's Bench, &c." Don't you love her? Lord Lincoln does her daughter—Lady Sophia Fermor. He is come over, and met me and her the other night; he turned pale, spoke to her several times in the evening, but not long, and sighed to me at going away. He came over all alone; and not only his Uncle Duke (the Duke of Newcastle) but even Majesty is fallen in love with him. He talked to the king at his levee, without being spoken to. That was always thought high treason; but I don't know how the gruff gentleman liked it. And then he had been told that Lord Lincoln designed to have made the campaign, if we had gone to war; in short, he says Lord Lincoln is the handsomest man in England.'
Horace was not, therefore, the only victim to a mother's ambition: there is something touching in the interest he from time to time evinces in poor Lord Lincoln's hopeless love. On another occasion, a second ball of Sir Thomas Robinson's, Lord Lincoln, out of prudence, dances with Lady Caroline Fitzroy, Mr. Conway taking Lady Sophia Fermor. 'The two couple were just admirably mismatched, as everybody soon perceived, by the attentions of each man to the woman he did not dance with, and the emulation of either lady; it was an admirable scene.'
All, however, was not country dancing: the young man, 'too old and too young to be in love,' was to make his way as a wit. He did so, in the approved way in that day of irreligion, in a political squib. On July 14th, 1742, he writes in his Notes, 'I wrote the "Lessons for the Day;" the "Lessons for the day" being the first and second chapters of the "Book of Preferment,"' Horace was proud of this brochure, for he says it got about surreptitiously, and was 'the original of many things of that sort.' Various jeux d'esprit of a similar sort followed. A 'Sermon on Painting,' which was preached before Sir Robert Walpole, in the gallery at Houghton, by his chaplain; 'Patapan, or the Little White Dog,' imitated from La Fontaine. No. 38 of the 'Old England Journal,' intended to ridicule Lord Bath; and then, in a magazine, was printed his 'Scheme for a Tax on Message Cards and Notes.' Next the 'Beauties,' which was also handed about, and got into print. So that without the vulgarity of publishing, the reputation of the dandy writer was soon noised about. His religious tenets may or may not have been sound; but at all events the tone of his mind assumed at this time a very different character to that reverent strain in which, when a youth at college, he had apostrophized those who bowed their heads beneath the vaulted roof of King's College, in his eulogium in the character of Henry VI.
'Ascend the temple, join the vocal choir, Let harmony your raptured souls inspire. Hark how the tuneful, solemn organs blow, Awfully strong, elaborately slow; Now to you empyrean seats above Raise meditation on the wings of love. Now falling, sinking, dying to the moan Once warbled sad by Jesse's contrite son; Breathe in each note a conscience through the sense, And call forth tears from soft-eyed Penitence.'
In the midst of all his gaieties, his successes, and perhaps his hopes, a cloud hovered over the destinies of his father. The opposition, Horace saw, in 1741, wished to ruin his father 'by ruining his constitution.' They wished to continue their debates on Saturdays, Sir Robert's only day of rest, when he used to rush to Richmond New Park, there to amuse himself with a favourite pack of beagles. Notwithstanding the minister's indifference to this his youngest son, Horace felt bitterly what he considered a persecution against one of the most corrupt of modern statesmen.
'Trust me, if we fall, all the grandeur, all the envied grandeur of our house, will not cost me a sigh: it has given me no pleasure while we have it, and will give me no pain when I part with it. My liberty, my ease, and choice of my own friends and company, will sufficiently counterbalance the crowds of Downing Street. I am so sick of it all, that if we are victorious or not, I propose leaving England in the spring.
The struggle was not destined to last long. Sir Robert was forced to give up the contest and be shelved with a peerage. In 1742, he was created Earl of Orford, and resigned. The wonder is that, with a mortal internal disease to contend with, he should have faced his foes so long. Verses ascribed to Lord Hervey ended, as did all the squibs of the day, with a fling at that 'rogue Walpole.'
'For though you have made that rogue Walpole retire, You are out of the frying-pan into the fire: But since to the Protestant line I'm a friend, I tremble to think how these changes may end.'
Horace, notwithstanding an affected indifference, felt his father's downfall poignantly. He went, indeed, to court, in spite of a cold, taken in an unaired house; for the prime minister now quitted Downing Street for Arlington Street. The court was crowded, he found, with old ladies, the wives of patriots who had not been there for 'these twenty years,' and who appeared in the accoutrements that were in vogue in Queen Anne's time. 'Then', he writes, 'the joy and awkward jollity of them is inexpressible! They titter, and, wherever you meet them, are always looking at their watches an hour before the time. I met several on the birthday (for I did not arrive time enough to make clothes), and they were dressed in all the colours of the rainbow. They seem to have said to themselves, twenty years ago, "Well, if ever I do go to court again, I will have a pink and silver, or a blue and silver;" and they keep their resolutions.'
Another characteristic anecdote betrays his ill-suppressed vexation:—
'I laughed at myself prodigiously the other day for a piece of absence. I was writing, on the king's birthday, and being disturbed with the mob in the street, I rang for the porter and with an air of grandeur, as if I was still at Downing Street, cried, "Pray send away those marrow-bones and cleavers."
The poor fellow, with the most mortified air in the world, replied, "Sir, they are not at our door, but over the way, at my Lord Carteret's."—"Oh!" said I, "then let them alone; may be, he does not dislike the noise!" I pity the poor porter, who sees all his old customers going over the way too.'
The retirement of Sir Robert from office had an important effect on the tastes and future life of his son Horace. The minister had been occupying his later years in pulling down his old ancestral house at Houghton, and in building an enormous mansion, which has since his time been, in its turn, partially demolished. When Harley, Earl of Orford, was known to be erecting a great house for himself, Sir Robert had remarked that a minister who did so committed a great imprudence. When Houghton was begun, Sir Hynde Aston reminded Sir Robert of this speech. 'You ought to have recalled it to me before,' was the reply; 'for before I began building, it might have been of use to me.'
This famous memorial of Walpolean greatness, this splendid folly, constructed, it is generally supposed, on public money, was inhabited by Sir Robert only ten days in summer, and twenty days in winter; in the autumn, during the shooting season, two months. It became almost an eyesore to the quiet gentry, who viewed the palace with a feeling of their own inferiority. People as good as the Walpoles lived in their gable-ended, moderate-sized mansions; and who was Sir Robert, to set them at so immense a distance?
To the vulgar comprehension of the Premier, Houghton, gigantic in its proportions, had its purposes. He there assembled his supporters; there, for a short time, he entertained his constituents and coadjutors with a magnificent, jovial hospitality, of which he, with his gay spirits, his humourous, indelicate jokes, and his unbounded good-nature, was the very soul. Free conversation, hard-drinking, were the features of every day's feast. Pope thus describes him:—
'Seen him, I have, but in his happier hour, Of social pleasure, ill exchanged for power; Seen him uncumbered with the venal tribe, Smile without art, and win without a bribe.'
Amid the coarse taste one gentle refinement existed: this was the love of gardening, both in its smaller compass and it its nobler sense of landscape gardening. 'This place,' Sir Robert, in 1743, wrote to General Churchill, from Houghton, 'affords no news, no subject of entertainment or amusement; for fine men of wit and pleasure about town understand neither the language and taste, nor the pleasure of the inanimate world. My flatterers here are all mutes: the oaks, the beeches, the chestnuts, seem to contend which best shall please the lord of the manor. They cannot deceive; they will not lie. I in sincerity admire them, and have as many beauties about me as fill up all my hours of dangling, and no disgrace attending me, from sixty-seven years of age. Within doors we come a little nearer to real life, and admire, upon the almost speaking canvas, all the airs and graces the proudest ladies can boast.'
In these pursuits Horace cordially shared. Through his agency, Horace Mann, still in the diplomatic service, at Florence, selected and purchased works of art, which were sent either to Arlington Street, or to form the famous Houghton Collection, to which Horace so often refers in that delightful work, his 'Anecdotes of Painting.'
Amongst the embellishments of Houghton, the gardens were the most expensive.
'Sir Robert has pleased himself,' Pulteney, Earl of Bath, wrote, 'with erecting palaces and extending parks, planting gardens in places to which the very earth was to be transported in carriages, and embracing cascades and fountains whose water was only to be obtained by aqueducts and machines, and imitating the extravagance of Oriental monarchs, at the expense of a free people whom he has at once impoverished and betrayed.'
The ex-minister went to a great expense in the cultivation of plants, bought Uvedale's 'Hortus Siccus;' and received from Bradley, the Professor of Botany at Cambridge, the tribute of a dedication, in which it was said that 'Sir Robert had purchased one of the finest collections of plants in the kingdom.'
What was more to his honour still, was Sir Robert's preservation of St. James's Park for the people. Fond of outdoor amusements himself, the Premier heard, with dismay, a proposal on the part of Queen Caroline to convert that ancient park into a palace garden. 'She asked my father,' Horace Walpole relates, 'what the alteration might possibly cost?'—Only three crowns' was the civil, witty, candid answer. The queen was wise enough to take the hint. It is possible she meant to convert the park into gardens that should be open to the public as at Berlin, Mannheim, and even the Tuileries. Still it would not have been ours.
Horace Walpole owed, perhaps, his love of architecture and his taste for gardening, partly to the early companionship of Gray, who delighted in those pursuits. Walpole's estimation of pictures, medals, and statues, was however the fruit of a long residence abroad. We are apt to rail at continental nations; yet had it not been for the occasional intercourse with foreign nations, art would have altogether died out among us. To the 'Grandes Tours,' performed as a matter of course by our young nobility in the most impressionable period of their lives we owe most of our noble private collections. Charles I. and Buckingham, renewed, in their travels in Spain, the efforts previously made by Lord Arundel and Lord Pembroke, to embellish their country seats. Then came the Rebellion; and like a mighty rushing river, made a chasm in which much perished. Art languished in the reign of the second Charles, excepting in what related to portrait painting. Evelyn stood almost alone in his then secluded and lovely retirement at Wotton; apart in his undying exertions still to arrest the Muses ere they quitted for ever English shores. Then came the deadly frost of William's icy influence. The reign of Anne was conspicuous more for letters than for art: architecture, more especially, was vulgarized under Vanbrugh. George I. had no conception of anything abstract: taste, erudition, science, art, were like a dead language to his common sense, his vulgar profligacy, and his personal predilections. Neither George II. nor his queen had an iota of taste, either in language, conduct, literature, or art. To be vulgar, was haut-ton; to be refined, to have pursuits that took one from low party gossip, or heterodox disquisitions upon party, was esteemed odd: everything original was cramped; everything imaginative was sneered at; the enthusiasm that is elevated by religion was unphilosophic; the poetry that is breathed out from the works of genius was not comprehended.
It was at Houghton, under the roof of that monster palace, that Horace Walpole indulged that tastes for pictures which he had acquired in Italy. His chief coadjutor, however, as far as the antiquities of painting are concerned, was George Vertue, the eminent engraver. Vertue was a man of modest merit, and was educated merely as an engraver; but, conscious of talent, studied drawing, which he afterwards applied to engraving. He was patronised both by the vain Godfrey Kneller and by the intellectual Lord Somers: yet his works have more fidelity than elegance, and betray in every line the antiquary rather than the genius. Vertue was known to be a first-rate authority as to the history of a painter; he was admitted and welcomed into every great country house in England; he lived in an atmosphere of vertu; every line a dilettante collector wrote, every word he uttered, was minuted down by him; he visited every collection of rarities; he copied every paper he could find relative to art; registers of wills, and registers of parishes, for births and deaths were his delight; sales his recreation. He was the 'Old Mortality' of pictures in this country. No wonder that his compilations were barely contained in forty volumes, which he left in manuscript. Human nature has singular varieties: here was a man who expended his very existence in gathering up the works of others, and died without giving to the world one of his own. But Horace Walpole has done him justice. After Vertue's death he bought his manuscripts from his widow. In one of his pocket-books was contained the whole history of this man of one idea: Vertue began his collection in 1713, and worked at it until his death in 1757, forty-four years.
He died in the belief that he should one day publish an unique work on painting and painters: such was the aim of his existence, and his study must have been even more curious than the wonderfully crammed, small house at Islington, where William Upcott, the 'Old Mortality' in his line, who saved from the housemaid's fire-lighting designs the MSS. Of Evelyn's
Life and Letters, which he found tossing about in the old gallery at Wotton, near Dorking, passed his days. Like Upcott, like Palissy, Vertue lived and died under the influence of one isolated aim, effort, and hope.
In these men, the cherished and amiable monomania of gifted minds was realized. Upcott had every possible autograph from every known hand in his collection: Palissy succeeded in making glazed china; but Vertue left his ore to the hands of others to work out into shape, and the man who moulded his crude materials was Horace Walpole, and Vertue's forty volumes were shaped into a readable work, as curious and accurate in facts as it is flippant and prejudiced in style and opinions.
Walpole's 'Anecdotes of Painting' are the foundation of all our small amount of knowledge as to what England has done formerly to encourage art.
One may fancy the modest, ingenious George Vertue arranging first, and then making a catalogue of the Houghton Gallery; Horace, a boy still, in looks,—with a somewhat chubby face, admiring and following: Sir Robert, in a cocked hat, edged with silver lace, a curled short wig, a loose coat, also edged with silver lace, and with a half humorous expression on his vulgar countenance, watching them at intervals, as they paraded through the hall, a large square space, adorned with bas-reliefs and busts, and containing a bronze copy of the Laocoon, for which Sir Robert (or rather we English) paid a thousand pounds; or they might be seen hopping speedily through the ground-floor apartments where there could be little to arrest the footsteps of the mediaeval-minded Vertue. Who but a courtier could give one glance at a portrait of George I., though by Kneller? Who that was a courtier in that house would pause to look at the resemblance, also by Kneller, of the short-lived, ill-used Catherine Shorter, the Premier's first wife—even though he still endured it in his bed-room? a mute reproach for his neglect and misconduct. So let us hasten to the yellow dining-room where presently we may admire the works of Titian, Guido, Vanderwerf, and last, not least, eleven portraits by Vandyck, of the Wharton family, which Sir Robert bought at the sale of the spendthrift Duke of Wharton.
Then let us glance at the saloon, famed for the four large 'Market Pieces,' as they were called, by Rubens and Snyders: let us lounge into what were called the Carlo Maratti and the Vandyck rooms; step we also into the green velvet bed-chamber, the tapestry-room, the worked bed chamber; then comes another dining-room: in short, we are lost in wonder at this noble collection, which cost L40,000.
Many of the pictures were selected and bargained for by Vertue, who, in Flanders, purchased the Market Pieces referred to, for L428; but did not secure the 'Fish Market,' and the 'Meat Market,' by the same painter. In addition to the pictures, the stateliness and beauty of the rooms were enhanced by rich furniture, carving, gilding, and all the subsidiary arts which our grandfathers loved to add to high merit in design or colouring. Besides his purchases, Sir Robert received presents of pictures from friends, and expectant courtiers; and the gallery at Houghton contained at last 222 pictures. To our sorrow now, to our disgrace then, this splendid collection was suffered to go out of the country: Catherine, empress of Russia, bought it for L40,000, and it adorns the Hermitage Palace of St. Petersburgh.
After Sir Robert's retirement from power, the good qualities which he undoubtedly possessed, seemed to re-appear as soon as the pressure of party feeling was withdrawn. He was fast declining in health when the insurrection of 1745 was impending. He had warned the country of its danger in his last speech, one of the finest ever made in the House of Lords: after that effort his voice was heard no more. The gallant, unfortunate Charles Edward was then at Paris, and that scope of old experience
——'which doth attain To somewhat of prophetic strain,'
showed the ex-minister of Great Britain that an invasion was at hand. It was on this occasion that Frederick, Prince of Wales, took Sir Robert, then Lord Orford, by the hand, and thanked him for his zeal in the cause of the royal family. Walpole returned to Norfolk, but was summoned again to London to afford the ministry the benefit of his counsels. Death, however, closed his prosperous, but laborious life. He suffered agonies from the stone; large doses of opium kept him in a state of stupor, and alone gave him ease; but his strength failed, and he was warned to prepare himself for his decease. He bore the announcement with great fortitude, and took leave of his children in perfect resignation to his doom. He died on the 28th of March, 1745.
Horace Walpole—whatsoever doubts may rest on the fact of his being Lord Orford's son or not—writes feelingly and naturally upon this event, and its forerunner, the agonies of disease. He seems, from the following passages in his letters to Sir Horace Mann, to have devoted himself incessantly to the patient invalid: on his father having rallied, he thus expresses himself:—
'You have heard from your brother the reason of my not having written to you so long. I have been out but twice since my father fell into this illness, which is now near a month, and all that time either continually in his room, or obliged to see multitudes of people: for it is wonderful how everybody of all kinds has affected to express their concern for him! He has been out of danger this week; but I can't say he mended at all perceptibly till these last three days. His spirits are amazing, and his constitution more, for Dr. Hulse said honestly from the first, that if he recovered it would be from his own strength, not from their art. How much more,' he adds, mournfully, 'he will ever recover, one scarce dare hope about; for us, he is greatly recovered; for himself—' He then breaks off.
A month after we find him thus referring to the parent still throbbing in mortal agony on the death-bed, with no chance of amendment:—
'How dismal a prospect for him, with the possession of the greatest understanding in the world, not the least impaired, to lie without any use for it! for to keep him from pains and restlessness, he takes so much opiate, that he is scarce awake four hours of the four-and-twenty; but I will say no more of this.'
On the 29th of March, he again wrote to his friend in the following terms:—
'I begged your brothers to tell you what it is impossible for me to tell you. You share in our common loss! Don't expect me to enter at all upon the subject. After the melancholy two months that I have passed, and in my situation, you will not wonder I shun a conversation which could not be bounded by a letter, a letter that would grow into a panegyric or a piece of a moral; improper for me to write upon, and too distressful for us both! a death is only to be felt, never to be talked upon by those it touches.'
Nevertheless, the world soon had Horace Walpole for her own again; during Lord Orford's last illness, George II. Thought of him, it seems, even though the 'Granvilles' were the only people tolerated at court. That famous clique comprised the secretly adored of Horace (Lady Granville now), Lady Sophia Fermor.
'The Granville faction,' Horace wrote, before his father's death, 'are still the constant and only countenanced people at court. Lord Winchelsea, one of the disgraced, played at court at Twelfth-night, and won; the king asked him next morning how much he had for his own share. He replied, "Sir, about a quarter's salary." I liked the spirit, and was talking to him of it the next night at Lord Granville's. "Why yes," said he, "I think it showed familiarity at least: tell it your father, I don't think he will dislike it."'
The most trifling incidents divided the world of fashion and produced the bitterest rancour. Indeed, nothing could exceed the frivolity of the great, except their impertinence. For want of better amusements, it had become the fashion to make conundrums, and to have printed books full of them, which were produced at parties. But these were peaceful diversions. The following anecdote is worthy of the times of George II. and of Frederick of Wales:—
'There is a very good quarrel,' Horace writes, 'on foot, between two duchesses: she of Queensberry sent to invite Lady Emily Lenox to a ball: her grace of Richmond, who is wonderfully cautious since Lady Caroline's elopement (with Mr. Fox), sent word "she could not determine." The other sent again the same night: the same answer. The Queensberry then sent word, that she had made up her company, and desired to be excused from having Lady Emily's; but at the bottom of the card wrote, "Too great trust." There is no declaration of war come out from the other duchess: but I believe it will be made a national quarrel of the whole illegitimate royal family.'
Her Grace of Queensberry, Prior's 'Kitty, beautiful and young,' lorded it, with a tyrannical hand, over the court. Her famed loveliness was, it is true, at this time on the wane. Her portrait delineating her in her bib and tucker, with her head rolled back underneath a sort of half cap, half veil, shows how intellectual was the face to which such incense was paid for years. Her forehead and eyebrows are beautiful: her eyes soft though lively in expression: her features refined. She was as whimsical in her attire as in her character. When, however, she chose to appear as the grande dame, no one could cope with her, Mrs. Delany describes her at the Birth-day,—her dress of white satin, embroidered with vine leaves, convolvuluses, rose-buds, shaded after nature; but she, says her friend, 'was so far beyond the master-piece of art that one could hardly think of her clothes—allowing for her age I never saw so beautiful a creature.'
Meantime, Houghton was shut up: for its owner died L50,000 in debt, and the elder brother of Horace, the second Lord Orford, proposed, on entering it again, after keeping it closed for some time, to enter upon 'new, and then very unknown economy, for which there was great need:' thus Horace refers to the changes.
It was in the South Sea scheme that Sir Robert Walpole had realized a large sum of money, by selling out at the right moment. In doing so he had gained 1000 per cent. But he left little to his family, and at his death, Horace received a legacy only of L5,000, and a thousand pounds yearly, which he was to draw (for doing nothing) from the collector's place in the Custom House; the surplus to be divided between his brother Edward and himself: this provision was afterwards enhanced by some money which came to Horace and his brothers from his uncle Captain Shorter's property; but Horace was not at this period a rich man, and perhaps his not marrying was owing to his dislike of fortune-hunting, or to his dread of refusal.
Two years after his father's death, he took a small house at Twickenham: the property cost him nearly L14,000; in the deeds he found that it was called Strawberry Hill. He soon commenced making considerable additions to the house—which became a sort of raree-show in the latter part of the last, and until a late period in this, century.
Twickenham—so called, according to the antiquary Norden, because the Thames, as it flows near it, seems from the islands to be divided into two rivers,—had long been celebrated for its gardens, when Horace Walpole, the generalissimo of all bachelors, took Strawberry Hill. 'Twicknam is as much as Twynam,' declares Norden, 'a place scytuate between two rivers.' So fertile a locality could not be neglected by the monks of old, the great gardeners and tillers of land in ancient days; and the Manor of Twickenham was consequently given to the monks of Christ Church, Canterbury, by King Edred, in 491; who piously inserted his anathema against any person—whatever their rank, sex, or order—who should infringe the rights of these holy men. 'May their memory,' the king decreed, with a force worthy of the excommunicator-wholesale, Pius IX., 'be blotted out of the Book of Life; may their strength continually waste away, and be there no restorative to repair it!' nevertheless, there were in the time of Lysons, a hundred and fifty acres of fruit-gardens at Twickenham: the soil being a sandy loam, raspberries grew plentifully. Even so early as Queen Elizabeth's days, Bishop Corbet's father had a nursery garden at Twickenham,—so that King Edred's curse seems to have fallen as powerlessly as it may be hoped all subsequent maledictions may do.
In 1698, one of the Earl of Bradford's coachmen built a small house on a piece of ground, called in old works, Strawberry-Hill-Shot; lodgings were here let, and Colley Cibber became one of the occupants of the place, and here wrote his Comedy called 'Refusal; or the Ladies' Philosophy.' The spot was so greatly admired that Talbot, Bishop of Durham, lived eight years in it, and the Marquis of Carnarvon succeeded him as a tenant: next came Mrs. Chenevix, a famous toy-woman. She was probably a French woman, for Father Courayer—he who vainly endeavoured to effect an union between the English and the Gallican churches—lodged here some time. Horace Walpole bought up Mrs. Chenevix's lease, and afterwards the fee-simple; and henceforth became the busiest, if not the happiest, man in a small way in existence.
We now despise the poor, over-ornate miniature Gothic style of Strawberry Hill; we do not consider with what infinite pains the structure was enlarged into its final and well-known form. In the first place, Horace made a tour to collect models from the chief cathedral cities in England; but the building required twenty-three years to complete it. It was begun in 1753, and finished in 1776. Strawberry Hill had one merit, everything was in keeping: the internal decorations, the screens, the niches, the chimney-pieces, the book-shelves, were all Gothic; and most of these were designed by Horace himself; and, indeed, the description of Strawberry Hill is too closely connected with the annals of his life to be dissevered from his biography. Here he gathered up his mental forces to support and amuse himself during a long life, sometimes darkened by spleen, but rarely by solitude; for Horace, with much isolation of the heart, was, to the world, a social being.
What scandal, what trifles, what important events, what littleness of mind, yet what stretch of intellect were henceforth issued by the recluse of Strawberry, as he plumed himself on being styled, from that library of 'Strawberry!' Let us picture to ourselves the place, the persons—put on, if we can, the sentiments and habits of the retreat; look through its loopholes, not only on the wide world beyond, but into the small world within; and face the fine gentleman author in every period of his varied life.
'The Strawberry Gazette,' Horace once wrote to a fine and titled lady, 'is very barren of weeds.' Such, however, was rarely the case. Peers, and still better, peeresses,—politicians, actors, actresses,—the poor poet who knew not where to dine, the Maecenas who was 'fed with dedications'—the belle of the season, the demirep of many, the antiquary, and the dilettanti,—painters, sculptors, engravers, all brought news to the 'Strawberry Gazette;' and incense, sometimes wrung from aching hearts, to the fastidious wit who professed to be a judge of all material and immaterial things—from a burlesque to an Essay on history or Philosophy—from the construction of Mrs. Chenevix's last new toy to the mechanism of a clock made in the sixteenth century, was lavished there.
Suppose that it is noon-day: Horace is showing a party of guests from London over Strawberry:—enter we with him, and let us stand in the great parlour before a portrait by Wright of the Minister to whom all courts bowed. 'That is my father, Sir Robert, in profile,' and a vulgar face in profile is always seen at its vulgarest; and the nex-retrousse, the coarse mouth, the double chin, are most forcibly exhibited in this limning by Wright; who did not, like Reynolds, or like Lawrence, cast a nuance of gentility over every subject of his pencil. Horace—can we not hear him in imagination?—is telling his friends how Sir Robert used to celebrate the day on which he sent in his resignation, as a fete; then he would point out to his visitors a Conversation-piece, one of Reynolds's earliest efforts in small life, representing the second Earl of Edgecumbe, Selwyn, and Williams—-all wits and beaux, and habitues of Strawberry. Colley Cibber, however, was put in cold marble in the anteroom; a respect very Horatian, for no man knew better how to rank his friends than the recluse of Strawberry. He hurries the lingering guests through the little parlour, the chimneypiece of which was copied from the tomb of Ruthall, Bishop of Durham, in Westminster Abbey. Yet how he pauses complacently to enumerate what has been done for him by titled belles: how these dogs, modelled in terra-cotta, are the production of Anne Darner; a water-colour drawing by Agnes Berry; a landscape with gipsies by Lady Di Beauclerk;—all platonically devoted to our Horace; but he dwells long, and his bright eyes are lighted up as he pauses before a case, looking as if it contained only a few apparently faded, of no-one-knows-who (or by whom) miniatures; this is a collection of Peter Oliver's best works—portraits of the Digby family.
How sadly, in referring to these invaluable pictures, does one's mind revert to the day when, before the hammer of Robins had resounded in these rooms—before his transcendent eloquence had been heard at Strawberry—Agnes Strickland, followed by all eyes, pondered over that group of portraits: how, as she slowly withdrew, we of the commonalty scarce worthy to look, gathered around the spot again, and wondered at the perfect life, the perfect colouring, proportion, and keeping of those tiny vestiges of a bygone generation!
Then Horace—we fear it was not till his prime was past, and a touch of gout crippled his once active limbs—points to a picture of Rose, the gardener (well named), presenting Charles II. with a pine-apple. Some may murmur a doubt whether pine-apples were cultivated in cold Britain so long since. But Horace enforces the fact; 'the likeness of the king,' quoth he, 'is too marked, and his features are too well known to doubt the fact;' and then he tells 'how he had received a present the last Sunday of fruit—and from whom.'
They pause next on Sir Peter Lely's portrait of Cowley—next on Hogarth's Sarah Malcolm, the murderess of her mistress; then—and doubtless, the spinster ladies are in fault here for the delay,—on Mrs. Damer's model of two kittens, pets, though, of Horace Walpole's—for he who loved few human beings was, after the fashion of bachelors, fond of cats.
They ascend the staircase: the domestic adornments merge into the historic. We have Francis I.—not himself, but his armour: the chimneypiece, too, is a copy from the tomb-works of John, Earl of Cornwall, in Westminster Abbey; the stonework from that of Thomas, Duke of Clarence, at Canterbury.
Stay awhile: we have not done with sacrilege yet; worse things are to be told, and we walk with consciences not unscathed into the Library, disapproving in secret but flattering vocally. Here the very spirit of Horace seemed to those who visited Strawberry before its fall to breathe in every corner. Alas! when we beheld that library, it was half filled with chests containing the celebrated MSS. of his letters; which were bought by that enterprising publisher of learned name, Richard Bentley, and which have since had adequate justice done them by first-rate editors. There they were: the 'Strawberry Gazette' in full;—one glanced merely at the yellow paper, and clear, decisive hand, and then turned to see what objects he, who loved his books so well, collected for his especial gratification. Mrs. Damer again! how proud he was of her genius—her beauty, her cousinly love for himself; the wise way in which she bound up the wounds of her breaking heart when her profligate husband shot himself, by taking to occupation—perhaps, too, by liking cousin Horace indifferently well. He put her models forward in every place. Here was her Osprey Eagle in terra-cotta, a masterly production; there a couvre-fire, or cur-few, imitated and modelled by her. Then the marriage of Henry VI. Figures on the wall; near the fire is a screen of the first tapestry ever made in England, representing a map of Surrey and Middlesex; a notion of utility combined with ornament, which we see still exhibited in the Sampler in old-fashioned, middle-class houses; that poor posthumous, base-born child of the tapestry, almost defunct itself; and a veritable piece of antiquity.
Still more remarkable in this room was a quaint-faced clock, silver gilt, given by Henry VIII. to Anne Boleyn; which perchance, after marking the moments of her festive life, struck unfeelingly the hour of her doom.
But the company are hurrying into a little ante-room, the ceiling of which is studded with stars in mosaic; it is therefore called jocularly, the 'Star Chamber;' and here stands a cast of the famous bust of Henry VII., by Torregiano, intended for the tomb of that sad-faced, long-visaged monarch, who always looks as if royalty had disagreed with him.
Next we enter the Holbein Chamber. Horace hated bishops and archbishops, and all the hierarchy; yet here again we behold another prelatical chimneypiece—a frieze taken from the tomb of Archbishop Warham, at Canterbury. And here, in addition to Holbein's picture of Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk, and of her third husband Adrian Stokes, are Vertue's copies of Holbein, drawings of that great master's pictures in Buckingham House: enough—let us hasten into the Long Gallery. Those who remember Sir Samuel Merrick and his Gallery at Goodrich Court will have traced in his curious, somewhat gew gaw collections of armour, antiquities, faded portraits, and mock horses, much of the taste and turn of mind that existed in Horace Walpole.
The gallery, which all who recollect the sale at Strawberry Hill must remember with peculiar interest, sounded well on paper. It was 56 feet long, 17 high, and 13 wide; yet was neither long enough, high enough, nor wide enough to inspire the indefinable sentiment by which we acknowledge vastness. We beheld it the scene of George Robins's triumphs—crowded to excess. Here strolled Lord John Russell; there, with heavy tread, walked Daniel O'Connell. Hallam, placid, kindly, gentle—the prince of book-worms—moved quickly through the rooms, pausing to raise a glance to the ceiling—copied from one of the side aisles of Henry VII.'s Chapel—but the fretwork is gilt, and there is petitesse about the Gothic which disappoints all good judges.
But when Horace conducted his courtly guests into this his mind-vaunted vaulted gallery, he had sometimes George Selwyn at his side; or Gray—or, in his old age, 'my niece, the Duchess of Gloucester,' leaned on his arm. What strange associations, what brilliant company!—the associations can never be recalled there again; nor the company reassembled. The gallery, like everything else, has perished under the pressure of debt. He who was so particular, too, as to the number of those who were admitted to see his house—he who stipulated that four persons only should compose a party, and one party alone be shown over each day—how would he have borne the crisis, could he have foreseen it, when Robins became, for the time, his successor, and was the temporary lord of Strawberry; the dusty, ruthless, wondering, depreciating mob of brokers—the respectable host of publishers—the starving army of martyrs, the authors—the fine ladies, who saw nothing there comparable to Howell and James's—the antiquaries, fishing out suspicious antiquities—the painters, clamorous over Kneller's profile of Mrs. Barry—the virtuous indignant mothers, as they passed by the portraits of the Duchess de la Valliere, and of Ninon de l'Enclos, and remarked, or at all events they might have remarked, that the company on the floor was scarcely much more respectable than the company on the walls—the fashionables, who herded together, impelled by caste, that free-masonry of social life, enter the Beauclerk closet to look over Lady Di's scenes from the 'Mysterious Mother'—the players and dramatists, finally, who crowded round Hogarth's sketch of his 'Beggars' Opera,' with portraits, and gazed on Davison's likeness of Mrs. Clive:—how could poor Horace have tolerated the sound of their irreverent remarks, the dust of their shoes, the degradation of their fancying that they might doubt his spurious-looking antiquities, or condemn his improper-looking ladies on their canvas? How, indeed, could he? For those parlours, that library, were peopled in his days with all those who could enhance his pleasures, or add to their own, by their presence. When Poverty stole in there, it was irradiated by Genius. When painters hovered beneath the fretted ceiling of that library, it was to thank the oracle of the day, not always for large orders, but for powerful recommendations. When actresses trod the Star Chamber, it was as modest friends, not as audacious critics on Horace, his house, and his pictures.
Before we call up the spirits that were familiar at Strawberry—ere we pass through the garden-gate, the piers of which were copied from the tomb of Bishop William de Luda, in Ely Cathedral—let us glance at the chapel, and then a word or two about Walpole's neighbours and anent Twickenham.
The front of the chapel was copied from Bishop Audley's tomb at Salisbury. Four panels of wood, taken from the Abbey of St. Edmund's Bury, displayed the portraits of Cardinal Beaufort, of Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, and of Archbishop Kemp. So much for the English church.
Next was seen a magnificent shrine in mosaic, from the church of St. Mary Maggiore, in Rome. This was the work of the noted Peter Cavalini, who constructed the tomb of Edward the Confessor in Westminster Abbey. The shrine had figured over the sepulchre of four martyrs, who rested between it in 1257: then the principal window in the chapel was brought from Bexhill in Sussex; and displayed portraits of Henry III. and his queen.
It was not every day that gay visitors travelled down the dusty roads from London to visit the recluse at Strawberry: but Horace wanted them not, for he had neighbours. In his youth he had owned for his playfellow the ever witty, the precocious, the all-fascinating Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. 'She was,' he wrote, 'a playfellow of mine when we were children. She was always a dirty little thing. This habit continued with her. When at Florence, the Grand Duke gave her apartments in his palace. One room sufficed for everything; and when she went away, the stench was so strong that they were obliged to fumigate the chamber with vinegar for a week.'
Let not the scandal be implicitly credited. Lady Mary, dirty or clean, resided occasionally, however, at Twickenham. When the admirable Lysons composed his 'Environs of London,' Horace Walpole was still living—it was in 1795—to point out to him the house in which his brilliant acquaintance lived. It was then inhabited by Dr. Morton. The profligate and clever Duke of Wharton lived also at Twickenham.
Marble Hill was built by George II, for the countess of Suffolk, and Henry, Earl of Pembroke, was the architect. Of later years, the beautiful and injured Mrs. Fitzherbert might be seen traversing the greensward, which was laved by the then pellucid waters of the Thames. The parish of Twickenham, in fact, was noted for the numerous characters who have, at various times, lived in it: Robert Boyle, the great philosopher; James Craggs, Secretary of State; Lord George Germaine; Lord Bute—are strangely mixed up with the old memories which circle around Twickenham to say nothing of its being, in after years, the abode of Louis Philippe, and now, of his accomplished son.
One dark figure in the background of society haunts us also: Lady Macclesfield, the cruel mother of Savage, polluted Twickenham by her evil presence.
Let us not dwell on her name, but recall, with somewhat of pride, that the names of that knot of accomplished, intellectual women, who composed the neighbourhood of Strawberry, were all English; those who loved to revel in all its charms of society and intellect were our justly-prized countrywomen.
Foremost in the bright constellation was Anne Seymour Conway, too soon married to the Hon. John Darner. She was one of the loveliest, the most enterprizing, and the most gifted women of her time—thirty-one years younger than Horace, having been born in 1748. He doubtless liked her the more that no ridicule could attach to his partiality, which was that of a father to a daughter, insofar as regarded his young cousin. She belonged to a family dear to him, being the daughter of Field Marshal Henry Seymour Conway: then she was beautiful, witty, a courageous politician, a heroine, fearless of losing caste, by aspiring to be an artist. She was, in truth, of our own time rather than of that. The works which she left at Strawberry are scattered; and if still traceable, are probably in many instances scarcely valued. But in that lovely spot, hallowed by the remembrance of Mrs. Siddons, who lived there in some humble capacity—say maid, say companion—in Guy's Cliff House, near Warwick—noble traces of Anne Damer's genius are extant: busts of the majestic Sally Siddons; of Nature's aristocrat, John Kemble; of his brother Charles—arrest many a look, call up many a thought of Anne Damer and her gifts: her intelligence, her warmth of heart, her beauty, her associates. Of her powers Horace Walpole had the highest opinion. 'If they come to Florence,' he wrote, speaking of Mrs. Damer's going to Italy for the winter, 'the great duke should beg Mrs. Damer to give him something of her statuary; and it would be a greater curiosity than anything in his Chamber of Painters. She has executed several marvels since you saw her; and has lately carved two colossal heads for the bridge at Henley, which is the most beautiful in the world, next to the Ponte di Trinita and was principally designed by her father, General Conway.'
No wonder that he left to this accomplished relative the privilege of living, after his death, at Strawberry Hill, of which she took possession in 1797, and where she remained twenty years; giving it up, in 1828, to Lord Waldegrave.
She was, as we have said, before her time in her appreciation of what was noble and superior, in preference to that which gives to caste alone, its supremacy. During her last years she bravely espoused an unfashionable cause; and disregarding the contempt of the lofty, became the champion of the injured and unhappy Caroline of Brunswick.
From his retreat at Strawberry, Horace Walpole heard all that befel the object of his flame, Lady Sophia Fermor. His letters present from time to time such passages as these; Lady Pomfret, whom he detested, being always the object of his satire:—
'There is not the least news; but that my Lord Carteret's wedding has been deferred on Lady Sophia's (Fermor's) falling dangerously ill of a scarlet fever; but they say it is to be next Saturday. She is to have L1,600 a year jointure, L400 pin-money, and L2,000 of jewels. Carteret says he does not intend to marry the mother (Lady Pomfret) and the whole family. What do you think my Lady intends?'
Lord Carteret, who was the object of Lady Pomfret's successful generalship, was at this period, 1744, fifty-four years of age, having been born in 1690. He was the son of George, Lord Carteret, by Grace, daughter of the first Earl of Bath, of the line of Granville—a title which became eventually his. The fair Sophia, in marrying him, espoused a man of no ordinary attributes. In person, Horace Walpole, after the grave had closed over one whom he probably envied, thus describes him:—
'Commanding beauty, smoothed by cheerful grace, Sat on each open feature of his face. Bold was his language, rapid, glowing, strong, And science flowed spontaneous from his tongue: A genius seizing systems, slighting rules, And void of gall, with boundless scorn of fools.'
After having been Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Carteret attended his royal master in the campaign, during which the Battle of Dettingen was fought. He now held the reins of government in his own hands as premier. Lord Chesterfield has described him as possessing quick precision, nice decision, and unbounded presumption. The Duke of Newcastle used to say of him that he was a 'man who never doubted.'
In a subsequent letter we find the sacrifice of the young and lovely Sophia completed. Ambition was the characteristic of her family: and she went, not unwillingly, to the altar. The whole affair is too amusingly told to be given in other language than that of Horace:—
'I could tell you a great deal of news,' he writes to Horace Mann, 'but it would not be what you would expect. It is not of battles, sieges, and declarations of war; nor of invasions, insurrections and addresses: it is the god of love, not he of war, who reigns in the newspapers. The town has made up a list of six-and-thirty weddings, which I shall not catalogue to you. But the chief entertainment has been the nuptials of our great Quixote (Carteret) and the fair Sophia. On the point of matrimony, she fell ill of a scarlet fever, and was given over, while he had the gout, but heroically sent her word, that if she was well, he would be well. They corresponded every day, and he used to plague the cabinet council with reading her letters to them. Last night they were married; and as all he does must have a particular air in it, they supped at Lord Pomfret's. At twelve, Lady Granville (his mother) and all his family went to bed, but the porter: then my lord went home, and waited for her in the lodge. She came alone, in a hackney chair, met him in the hall, and was led up the back stairs to bed. What is ridiculously lucky is, that Lord Lincoln goes into waiting to-day, and will be to present her!'
The event was succeeded by a great ball at the Duchess of Richmond's, in honour of the bride, Lady Carteret paying her ladyship the 'highest honours,' which she received in the 'highest state.' 'I have seen her,' adds Horace, 'but once, and found her just what I expected, tres grande dame, full of herself, and yet not with an air of happiness. She looks ill, and is grown lean, but is still the finest figure in the world. The mother (Lady Pomfret) is not so exalted as I expected; I fancy Carteret has kept his resolution, and does not marry her too.'
Whilst this game was being played out, one of Walpole's most valued neighbours, Pope, was dying of dropsy, and every evening a gentle delirium possessed him. Again does Horace return to the theme, ever in his thoughts—the Carterets: again does he recount their triumphs and their follies.
'I will not fail'—still to Horace Mann—'to make your compliments to the Pomfrets and Carterets. I see them seldom but I am in favour; so I conclude, for my Lady Pomfret told me the other night that I said better things than anybody. I was with them all at a subscription ball at Ranelagh last week, which my Lady Carteret thought proper to look upon as given to her, and thanked the gentlemen, who were not quite so well pleased at her condescending to take it to herself. I did the honours of all her dress. "How charming your ladyship's cross is! I am sure the design was your own!"—"No, indeed; my lord sent it me just as it is." Then as much to the mother. Do you wonder I say better things than anybody?'
But these brilliant scenes were soon mournfully ended. Lady Sophia, the haughty, the idolized, the Juno of that gay circle, was suddenly carried off by a fever. With real feeling Horace thus tells the tale:—
'Before I talk of any public news, I must tell you what you will be very sorry for. Lady Granville (Lady Sophia Fermor) is dead. She had a fever for six weeks before her lying-in, and could never get it off. Last Saturday they called in another physician, Dr. Oliver. On Monday he pronounced her out of danger; about seven in the evening, as Lady Pomfret and Lady Charlotte (Fermor) were sitting by her, the first notice they had of her immediate danger was her sighing and saying, "I feel death come very fast upon me!" She repeated the same words frequently, remained perfectly in her senses and calm, and died about eleven at night. It is very shocking for anybody so young, so handsome, so arrived at the height of happiness, to be so quickly snatched away.'
So vanished one of the brightest stars of the court. The same autumn (1745) was the epoch of a great event; the marching of Charles Edward into England. Whilst the Duke of Cumberland was preparing to head the troops to oppose him, the Prince of Wales was inviting a party to supper, the main feature of which was the citadel of Carlisle in sugar, the company all besieging it with sugar-plums. It would, indeed, as Walpole declared, be impossible to relate all the Caligulisms of this effeminate, absurd prince. But buffoonery and eccentricity were the order of the day. 'A ridiculous thing happened,' Horace writes, 'when the princess saw company after her confinement. The new-born babe was shown in a mighty pretty cradle, designed by Kent, under a canopy in the great drawing-room. Sir William Stanhope went to look at it. Mrs, Herbert, the governess, advanced to unmantle it. He said, "In wax, I suppose?" "Sir?" "In wax, madam?" "The young prince, sir?" "Yes, in wax, I suppose?" This is his odd humour. When he went to see the duke at his birth, he said, "Lord, it sees!"'
The recluse of Strawberry was soon consoled by hearing that the rebels were driven back from Derby, where they had penetrated, and where the remembrance of the then gay, sanguine, brave young Chevalier long lingered among the old inhabitants. One of the last traces of his short-lived possession of the town is gone: very recently, Exeter House, where he lodged and where he received his adherents, has been pulled down; the ground on which it stood, with its court and garden—somewhat in appearace like an old French hotel—being too valuable for the relic of bygone times to be spared. The panelled chambers, the fine staircase, certain pictures—one by Wright of Derby, of him—one of Miss Walkinshaw—have all disappeared.
Of the capture, the trial, the death of his adherents, Horace Walpole has left the most graphic and therefore touching account that has been given; whilst he calls a 'rebellion on the defensive' a 'despicable affair.' Humane, he reverted with horror to the atrocities of General Hawley, 'the Chief Justice,' as he was designated, who had a 'passion for frequent and sudden executions.' When this savage commander gained intelligence of a French spy coming over, he displayed him at once before the army on a gallows, dangling in his muff and boots. When one of the surgeons begged for the body of a deserter to dissect, 'Well,' said the wretch, 'but you must let me have the skeleton to hang up in the guard-room,' Such was the temper of the times; vice, childishness, levity at court, brutality in the camp, were the order of the day. Horace, even Horace, worldly in all, indifferent as to good and bad, seems to have been heart sick. His brother's matrimonial infidelity vexed him also sorely. Lady Orford, 'tired,' as he expresses it, of 'sublunary affairs,' was trying to come to an arrangement with her husband, from whom she had been long separated; the price was to be, he fancied, L2,000 a year. Meantime, during the convulsive state of political affairs, he interested himself continually in the improvement of Strawberry Hill. There was a rival building, Mr. Bateman's Monastery, at Old Windsor, which is said to have had more uniformity of design than Strawberry Hill. Horace used indeed to call the house of which he became so proud a paper house; the walls were at first so slight, and the roof so insecure in heavy rains. Nevertheless, his days were passed as peacefully there as the premature infirmities which came upon him would permit.
From the age of twenty-five his fingers were enlarged and deformed by chalk-stones, which were discharged twice a year. 'I can chalk up a score with more rapidity than any man in England,' was his melancholy jest. He had now adopted as a necessity a strict temperance: he sat up very late, either writing or conversing, yet always breakfasted at nine o'clock. After the death of Madame du Deffand, a little fat dog, scarcely able to move for age and size—her legacy—used to proclaim his approach by barking. The little favourite was placed beside him on a sofa; a tea-kettle, stand, and heater were brought in, and he drank two or three cups of tea out of the finest and most precious china of Japan—that of a pure white. He breakfasted with an appetite, feeding from his table the little dog and his pet squirrels.
Dinner at Strawberry Hill was usually served up in the small parlour in winter, the large dining-room being reserved for large parties. As age drew on, he was supported down stairs by his valet; and then, says the compiler of Walpoliana, 'he ate most moderately of chicken, pheasant, or any light food. Pastry he disliked, as difficult of digestion, though he would taste a morsel of venison-pie. Never but once, that he drank two glasses of white wine, did the editor see him taste any liquor, except ice-water. A pail of ice was placed under the table, in which stood a decanter of water, from which he supplied himself with his favourite beverage.'
No wine was drunk after dinner, when the host of Strawberry Hill called instantly to some one to ring the bell for coffee. It was served upstairs, and there, adds the same writer, 'he would pass about five o'clock, and generally resuming his place on the sofa, would sit till two in the morning, in miscellaneous chit-chat, full of singular anecdotes, strokes of wit, and acute observations, occasionally sending for books, or curiosities, or passing to the library, as any reference happened to arise in conversation. After his coffee, he tasted nothing; but the snuff-box of tabac d'etrennes, from Fribourg's, was not forgotten, and was replenished from a canister lodged in an ancient marble urn of great thickness, which stood in the window seat, and served to secure its moisture and rich flavour.'
In spite of all his infirmities, Horace Walpole took no care of his health, as far as out-door exercise was concerned. His friends beheld him with horror go out on a dewy day: he would even step out in his slippers. In his own grounds he never wore a hat: he used to say, that on his first visit to Paris he was ashamed of his effeminacy, when he saw every meagre little Frenchman whom he could have knocked down in a breath walking without a hat, which he could not do without a certainty of taking the disease which the Germans say is endemical in England, and which they call to catch cold. The first trial, he used to tell his friends, cost him a fever, but he got over it. Draughts of air, damp rooms, windows open at his back, became matters of indifference to him after once getting through the hardening process. He used even to be vexed at the officious solicitude of friends on this point, and with half a smile would say, 'My back is the same as my face, and my neck is like my nose.' He regarded his favourite iced-water as a preservative to his stomach, which, he said, would last longer than his bones. He did not take into account that the stomach is usually the seat of disease.
One naturally inquires why the amiable recluse never, in his best days, thought of marriage: a difficult question to be answered. In men of that period, a dissolute life, an unhappy connection, too frequently explained the problem. In the case before us no such explanation can be offered. Horace Walpole had many votaries, many friends, several favourites, but no known mistress. The marks of the old bachelor fastened early on him, more especially after he began to be governed by his valet de chambre. The notable personage who ruled over the pliant Horace was a Swiss, named Colomb. This domestic tyrant was despotic; if Horace wanted a tree to be felled, Colomb opposed it, and the master yielded. Servants, in those days, were intrinsically the same as in ours, but they differed in manner. The old familiarity had not gone out, but existed as it still does among the French. Those who recollect Dr. Parr will remember how stern a rule his factotum Sam exercised over him. Sam put down what wine he chose, nay, almost invited the guests; at all events, he had his favourites among them. And in the same way as Sam ruled at Hatton, Colomb was, de facto, the master of Strawberry Hill.
With all its defects, the little 'plaything house' as Horace Walpole called it, must have been a charming house to visit in. First, there was the host. 'His engaging manners,' writes the editor of Walpoliana, 'and gentle, endearing affability to his friends, exceed all praise. Not the smallest hauteur, or consciousness of rank or talent, appeared in his familiar conferences; and he was ever eager to dissipate any constraint that might occur, as imposing a constraint upon himself, and knowing that any such chain enfeebles and almost annihilates the mental powers. Endued with exquisite sensibility, his wit never gave the smallest wound, even to the grossest ignorance of the world, or the most morbid hypochondriac bashfulness.'
He had, in fact, no excuse for being doleful or morbid. How many resources were his! what an even destiny! what prosperous fortunes! What learned luxury he revelled in! he was enabled to 'pick up all the roses of science, and to leave the thorns behind.' To how few of the gifted have the means of gratification been permitted! to how many has hard work been allotted! Then, when genius has been endowed with rank, with wealth, how often it has been degraded by excess! Rochester's passions ran riot in one century: Beckford's gifts were polluted by his vices in another—signal landmarks of each age. But Horace Walpole was prudent, decorous, even respectable: no elevated aspirations, no benevolent views ennobled under the petitesse of his nature. He had neither genius nor romance: he was even devoid of sentiment; but he was social to all, neighbourly to many, and attached to some of his fellow-creatures.