« AnteriorContinuar »
We cannot transcribe this title-page without The conformation of his mind was such, strong feelings of regret. The editing of these that whatever was little, seemed to him great, volumes was the last of the useful and modest and whatever was great, seemed to him little. services rendered to literature by a nobleman Serious business was a trifle to him, and trifles of amiable manners, of untarnished public and were his serious business. To chat with blueprivate character, and of cultivated mind. On stockings; to write little copies of complimentThis, as on other occasions, Lord Dover per- ary verses on little occasions; to superintend formed his part diligently, judiciously, and a private press; to preserve from natural decay without the slightest ostentation. He had two the perishable topics of Ranelagh and White's; merits, both of which are rarely found together to record divorces and bets, Miss Chudleigh's in a commentator. He was content to be absurdities and George Selwyn's good saymerely a commentator—to keep in the back- ings; to decorate a grotesque house with pieground, and to leave the foreground to the crust battlements; to procure rare engravings author whom he had undertaken to illustrate. and antique chimney-boards; to match odd Yet, though willing to be an attendant, he was gauntlets; to lay out a maze of walks within by no means a slave; nor did he consider it as five acres of ground-these were the grave part of his editorial duty to see no faults in the employments of his long life. From these he writer to whom he faithfully and assiduously turned to politics as to an amusement. After rendered the humblest literary offices.
the labours of the print-shop and the auctionThe faults of Horace Walpole's head and room, he unbent his mind in the House of heart are indeed sufficiently glaring. His Commons. And, having indulged in the rewritings, it is true, rank as high among the creation of making laws and voting millions delicacies of intellectual epicures as the Stras- he returned to more important pursuits-10 burgh pies among the dishes described in the researches after Queen Mary's comb, Wolsey's Almanack des Gourmands. But, as the pâté-de- red hat, the pipe which Van Tromp smoked foie-gras owes its excellence to the diseases of during his last seafight, and the spur which the wretched animal which furnishes it, and King William struck into the flank of Sorrel. would be good for nothing if it were not made In every thing in which he busied himselfof livers preternaturally swollen, so none but in the fine arts, in literature, in public affairs an unhealthy and disorganized mind could he was drawn by some strange attraction have produced such literary luxuries as the from the great to the little, and from the useful works of Walpole.
to the odd. The politics in which he took the He was, unless we have formed a very erro- keenest interest were politics scarcely deserv. neous judgment of his character, the most ing of the name. The growlings of George the eccentric, the most artificial, the most fastidi- Second, the firtations of Princess Emily with ous, the most capricious of men. His mind the Duke of Grafton, the amours of Prince was a bundle of inconsistent whims and affecta- Frederic with Lady Middlesex, the squabbles tions. His features were covered by mask between Gold Stick and the Master of the Buck. within mask. When the outer disguise of hounds, the disagreements between the tutors obvious affectation was removed, you were of Prince George-these matters engaged still as far as ever from seeing the real man. almost all the attention which Walpole could He played innumerable parts, and overacted spare from matters more important still;—from them all. When he talked misanthropy, he bidding for Zinckes and Petitots, from cheapout-Timoned Timon. When he talked philan- ening fragments of tapestry, and handles of old thropy, he left Howard at an immeasurable lances, from joining bits of painted glass, and distance. He scoffed at courts, and kept a from setting up memorials of departed cats and chronicle of their most trifling scandal; at dogs. While he was fetching and carrying society, and was blown about by its slightest the gossip of Kensington Palace and Carlton reerings of opinion; at literary fame, and left House, he fancied that he was engaged in fair copies of his private letters, with copious politics, and when he recorded that gossip, he notes, to be published after his decease; at fancied that he was writing history. rank, and never for a moment forgot that he He was, as he has himself told us, fond of was an honourable; at the practice of entail, faction as an amusement. He loved mischief • and tasked the ingenuity of conveyancers to tie but he loved quiet; and he was constantly on up his villa in the strictest settlement. the watch for opportunities of gratifying buth
his tastes at once. He sometimes contrived, • Letters of Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford, to Sir Ho. without showing himself, to disturb the course ruce Mann, British Envoy at the Court of Tuscany. Now of ministerial negotiations, and to spread conbrat published from the Originals in the possession of the fusion through the political circles. He does EARL or WALDGRAVE. Edited by Lord Dover. 3 vols. I not himself pretend that, on these occasirus, Svo. London. 1833.
he was actuated by public spirit; nor does he Houghton or in Downing street, men who had appear to have had any private advantage in been Whigs when it was as dangerous to be a view. He thought it a good practical joke to Whig as to be a highwayman; men who had set public men together by the ears; and he voted for the exclusion bill, who had been con. enjoyed their perplexities, their accusations, cealed in garrets and cellars after the battle of and their recriminations, as a malicious boy Sedgmoor, and who had set their names to the enjoys the embarrassment of a misdirected declaration that they would live and die with traveller.
the Prince of Orange. He had acquired the About politics, in the high sense of the word, language of these men, and he repeated it by he knew nothing and cared nothing. He called rote, though it was at variance with all his himself a Whig. His father's son could scarce- tastes and feelings; just as some old Jacobite ly assume any other name. It pleased him families persisted in praying for the Pretender, also to affect a foolish aversion to kings •as and passing their glasses over the water-dekings, and a foolish love and admiration of canter when they drank the king's health, long rebels as rebels; and, perhaps, while kings after they had become zealous supporters of were not in danger, and while rebels were not the government of George the Third. He was in being, he really believed that he held the a Whig by the accident of hereditary connecdoctrines which he professed. To go no far- tion; but he was essentially a courtier, and ther than the letters now before us, he is per- not the less a courtier because he pretended to petually boasting to his friend Mann of his sneer at the object which excited his admiraaversion to royalty and to royal persons. He tion and envy. His real tastes perpetually calls the crime of Damien “ that least bad of show themselves through the thin disguise. murders, the murder of a king." He hung up While professing all the contempt of Bradshaw in his villa a fac-simile of the death-warrant or Ludlow for crowned heads, he took the of Charles, with the inscription, “Major Charta." trouble to write a book concerning Royal Au. Yet the most superficial knowledge of history thors. He pried with the utmost anxiety into might have taught him that the Restoration, the most minute particulars relating to the and the crimes and follies of the twenty-eight royal family. When he was a child, he was years which followed the Restoration, were the haunted with a longing to see George the First, effects of this “Greater Charter.” Nor was and gave his mother no peace till she had there much in the means by which the instru- found a way of gratifying his curiosity. The inent was obtained which could gratify a judi- same feeling, covered with a thousand dis. cious lover of liberty. A man must hate kings guises, attended him to the grave. No observery bitterly, before he can think it desirable vation that dropped from the lips of majesty that the representatives of the people should seemed to him too trifling to be recorded. The be turned out of doors by dragoons, in order French songs of Prince Frederic, compositions to get at a king's head. Walpole's Whigism, certainly not deserving of preservation on achowerer, was of a very harmless kind. He count of their intrinsic merit, have been carekept it, as he kept the old spears and helmets fully preserved for us by this contemner of at Strawberry Hill, merely for show. He royalty. In truth, every page of Walpole's would just as soon have thought of taking works betrayed him. This Diogenes, who down the arms of the ancient Templars and would be thought to prefer his tub to a palace, Hospitallers from the walls of his hall
, and and who has nothing to ask of the masters of setting off on a crusade to the Holy Land, as Windsor and Versailles but that they will of acting in the spirit of those daring warriors stand out of his light, is a gentleman-usher at and statesmen, great even in their errors, whose heart. names and seals were affixed to the warrant He had, it is plain, an uneasy consciousness which he prized so highly. He liked revolu- of the frivolity of his favourite pursuits; and tion and regicide only when they were a hun- this consciousness produced one of the most dred years old. His republicanism, like the diverting of his ten thousand affectations. His courage of a bully or the love of a fribble, was busy idleness, his indifference to matters which strong and ardent when there was no occasion the world generally regards as important, his for it, and subsided when he had an opportu- passion for trifles, he thought fit to dignify with nity of bringing it to the proof. As soon as the name of philosophy. He spoke of himself the revolutionary spirit really began to stir in as of a man whose equanimity was proof to Europe, as soon as the hatred of kings became ambitious hopes and fears; who had learned something more than a sonorous phrase, he to rate power, wealth, and fame at their true was frightened into a fanatical royalist, and value, and whom the conflict of parties, the became one of the most extravagant alarmists rise and fall of statesmen, the ebbs and flows of those wretched times. In truth, his talk of public opinion, moved only to a smile or about liberty, whether he knew it or not, was mingled compassion and disdain. It was owing from the beginning a mere cant, the remains to the peculiar elevation of his character, that of a phraseology which had meant something he cared about a lath and plaster pinnacle in the mouths of those from whom he had more than about the Middlesex election, and learned it, but which, in his mouth, meant about a miniature of Grammont more than about as much as the oath by which the about the American Revolution. Knights of the Bath bind themselves to redress Murray might talk themselves hoarse about the wrongs of all injured ladies. He had been trifles. But questions of government and va; led in his boyhood with Whig speculations on were too insignificant to detain a mind which government. He must often have seen, at I was occupied in recording the scandal of club
rooms and the whispers of the backstairs, and affected superciliousness and apathy of a man which was even capable of selecting and dis- of ton, posing chairs of ebony and shields of rhinoce- His judgment of literature, of contemporary ros-skin.
literature especially, was altogether perverted One of his innumerable whims was an ex- by his aristocratical feelings. No writer surely treme dislike to be considered as a man of let- was ever guilty of so much false and absurd ters. Not that he was indifferent to literary criticism. He almost invariably speaks with fame. Far from it. Scarcely any writer has contempt of those books which are now univerever troubled himself much about the ap- sally allowed to be the best that appeared in pearance which his works were to make before his time; and, on the other hand, he speaks of posterity. But he had set his heart on incom- writers of rank and fashion as if they were patible objects. He wished to be a celebrated entitled to the same precedence in literature author, and yet to be a mere idle gentleman-which would have been allowed to them in a one of those epicurean gods of the earth who drawing-room. In these letters, for example, do nothing at all, and who pass their existence he says, that he would rather have written the in the contemplation of their own perfections. most absurd lines in Lee than Thomson's He did not like to have any thing in common “ Seasons." The periodical paper called " The with the wretches who lodged in the little World," on the other hand, was by “our first courts behind St. Martin's Church, and stole writers.” Who, then, were the first writers of out on Sundays to dine with their bookseller. England in the year 1753 ? Walpole has told He avoided the society of authors. He spoke us in a note. Our readers will probably guess with lordly contempt of the most distinguished that Hume, Fielding, Smollett, Richardson, among them. He tried to find out some way Johnson, Warburton, Collins, Akenside, Gray, of writing books, as M. Jourdain's father sold Dyer, Young, Warton, Mason, or some of cloth, without derogating from his character those distinguished men, were on the list. Not of gentilhomme. “Lui, marchand ? C'est pure one of them. Our first writers, it seems, were médisance: il ne l'a jamais été. Tout ce qu'il Lord Chesterfield, Lord Bath, Mr. W. Whitefaisait, c'est qu'il était fort obligeant, fort offi- head, Sir Charles Williams, Mr. Soame Jenyns, cieux; et comme il se connaissait, fort bien Mr. Cambridge, Mr. Coventry. Of these seven en étoffes, il en allait choisir de tous les côtés, gentlemen, Whitehead was the lowest in sta. les faisait apporter chez lui, et en donnait à tion, but was the most accomplished tuft-hunter ses amis pour de l'argent.” There are several of his time. Coventry was of a noble family. amusing instances of his feeling on this sub- The other five had among them two peerages, ject in the letters now before us. Mann had two seats in the House of Commons, three complimented him on the learning which ap- seats in the Privy Council, a baronetcy, a blue peared in the “ Catalogue of Royal and Noble riband, a red riband, about a hundred thousand Authors;" and it is curious to see how impa- pounds a year, and not ten pages that are worth tiently Walpole bore the imputation of having reading. The writings of Whitehead, Cam. attended to any thing so unfashionable as the bridge, Coventry, and Lord Bath are forgotten. improvement of his mind. “I know nothing. Soame Jenyns is remembered chiefly by John How should I? I who have always lived in son's review of the foolish Essay on the Origin the big busy world; who lie a-bed all the morn- of Evil. Lord Chesterfield stands much lower ing, calling it morning as long as you please; in the estimation of posterity than he wr.id who sup in company; who have played at faro have done if his letters had never been p half my life, and now at loo till two and three lished. The lampoons of Sir Charles Williams in the morning; who have always loved plea- are now read only by the curious; and, though sure, haunted auctions... How I have laughed not without occasional flashes of wit, have alwhen some of the Magazines have called me ways seemed to us, we must own, very poor the learned gentleman. Pray don't be like the performances. Magazines.” This folly might be pardoned in Walpole judged of French literature after a boy. But a man of forty-three, as Walpole the same fashion. He understood and loved then was, ought to be quite as much ashamed the French language. Indeed, he loved it 100 of playing at loo till three every morning, as well. His style is more deeply tainted with of being so vulgar a thing as a learned gen. Gallicisms than that of any otifer English teman.
writer with whom we are acquainted. His The literary character has undoubtedly its composition often reads, for a page together, full share of faults, and of very serious and like a rude translation from the French. We offensive faults. If Walpole had avoided those meet every minute with such sentences as faults, we could have pardoned the fastidious- these, “One knows what temperaments Annibal · Dess with which he declined all fellowship Caracci painted.”. “ The impertinent person. with men of learning. But from those faults age !" She is dead rich." "Lord Dalkeith Walpole was not one jot more free than the is dead of the small-pox in three days." garreteers from whose contact he shrank. Of “What was ridiculous, the man who seconded literary meannesses and literary vices, his life the motion happened to be shut out.” “It w:11 and his works contain as many instances as now be seen whether he or they are nost pa the life and the works of any member of triot." Johnson's club. The fact is, that Walpole had His love of the French language was of a the faults of Grub street, with a large addition peculiar kind. He lovea ir as having been for from St. James's street, the vanity, the jea- a century the vehicle of all the polite nothings lousy, the irritability of a man of letters, the l of Europe: as the sign by which the freeala
sons of fashion recognised each other in every close with a good hope for France and for capital from Petersburg to Naples; as the lan- mankind. guage of raillery, as the language of anecdote, Walpole had neither hopes nor fears. as the language of memoirs, as the language Though the most Frenchified English writer of correspondence. Its higher uses he alto- of the eighteenth century, he troubled himself gether disregarded. The literature of France little about the portents which were daily to be has been to ours what Aaron was to Moses-discerned in the French literature of his time. the expositor of great truths, which would else While the most eminent Frenchmen were have perished for want of a voice to utter studying with enthusiastic delight English polithem with distinctness. The relation which tics and English philosophy, he was study. existed between Mr. Bentham and M. Dumont ing as intently the gossip of the old court of is an exact illustration of the intellectual rela- France. The fashions and scandal of Ver. tion in which the two countries stand to each sailles and Marli, fashions and scandal a hunother. The great discoveries in physics, in dred years old, occupied him infinitely more metaphysics, in political science, are ours. than a great moral revolution which was But no foreign nation except France has re- taking place in his sight. He took a prodi. ceived them from us by direct communication.gious interest in every noble sharper whose Isolated in our situation, isolated by our man- vast volume of wig and infinite length of ners, we found truth, but we did not impart it. riband had figured at the dressing or at the France has been the interpreter between Eng- tucking up of Louis the Fourteenth, and of land and mankind.
every profligate woman of quality who had In the time of Walpole, this process of in- carried her irain of lovers backward and forterpretation was in full activity. The great ward from kirg to Parliament, and from ParFrench writers were busy in proclaiming liament to king, during the wars of the Fronde. through Europe the names of Bacon, of New- These were the people of whom he treasured ton, and of Locke. The English principles of up the smallest memorial, of whom he loved toleration, the English respect for personal to hear the most trifling anecdote, and for liberty, the English doctrine that all power is whose likenesses he would have given any a trust for the public good, were making rapid price. Of the great French writers of his own progress. There is scarcely any thing in his time, Montesquieu is the only one of whom he tory so interesting as that great stirring up of speaks with enthusiasm. And even of Monthe mind of France, that shaking of the foun- tesquieu he speaks with less enthusiasm than dations of all established opinions, that up of that abject thing, Crebillon the younger, a rooting of old truth and old error. It was plain scribbler as licentious as Louvet and as dull that mighty principles were at work, whether as Rapin. A man must be strangely constifor evil or for good. It was plain that a great tuted who can take interest in pedantic jourchange in the whole social system was at nals of the blockades laid by the Duke of A. to hand. Fanatics of one kind might anticipate the hearts of the Marquise de B. and the Com a golden age, in which men should live under tesse de C. This trash Walpole extols in lan the simple dominion of reason, in perfect guage sufficiently high for the merits of “Don equality and perfect amity, without property, Quixote.” He wished to possess a likeness of or marriage, or king, or God. A fanatic of Crebillon, and Liotard, the first painter of another kind might see nothing in the doc- miniatures then living, was employed to pretrines of the philosophers but anarchy and serve the features of the profligate twaddler. atheism, might cling more closely to every old The admirer of the Sopha and of the Lettres abuse, and might regret the good old days Athéniennes had little respect to spare for the when St. Dominic and Simon de Montfort put men who were then at the head of French down the growing heresies of Provence.“ A literature. He kept carefully out of their way. wise man would have seen with regret the ex- He tried to keep other people from paying cesses into which the reformers were running, them any attention. He could not deny that but he would have done justice to their genius Voltaire and Rousseau were clever men; but and to their philanthropy. He would have he took every opportunity of depreciating censured their errors; but he would have re- them. Of D'Alembert he spoke with a conmembered that, as Milton has said, error is but tempt, which, when the intellectual powers of opinion in the making: While he condemned the two men are compared, seems exquisitely their hostility to religion, he would have ac- ridiculous. D'Alembert complained that he knowledged that it was the natural effect of a was accused of having written Walpole's system under which religion had been con- squib against Rousseau. “I hope,” says Walslantly exhibited to them, in forms which com- pole, “that nobody will attribute D'Alembert's mon sense rejected, and at which humanity works to me." He was in little danger. shuddered. While he condemned some of It is impossible to deny, however, that Wal. their political doctrines as incompatible with pole's works have real merit, and merit of a all law, all property, and all civilization, he very rare, though not of a very high kind. would have acknowledged that the subjects of Sir Joshua Reynolds used to say, that though Louis the Fifteenth had every excuse which nobody would for a moment compare Claude men could have for being eager lo pull down, to Raphael, there would be another Raphael and for being ignorant of the far higher art of before there was another Claude. And we setting up. While anticipating a fierce con- own that we expect to see fresh Humes and dict, a great and wide-wasting destruction, he fresh Burkes before we again fall in with that would yet have looked forward to the final l peculiar combination of moral and intellectual
qualities to which the writings of Walpole owe cessity of altogether dissenting from his opi. their extraordinary popularity.
nion. We do not conceive that he had any It is easy to describe him by negatives. He power of discerning the finer shades of chahad not a creative imagination. He had not racter. He practised an art, however, which, a pure taste. He was not a great reasoner. though easy and even vulgar, obtains for those There is indeed scarcely any writer, in whose who practise it the reputation of discernment works it would be possible to find so many with ninety-nine people out of a hundred. He contradictory judgments, so many sentences sheered at every hody, put on every action the of extravagant nonsense. Nor was it only in worst construction which it would bear,“ spelt his familiar correspondence that he wrote in every man backward;" to borrow the Lady this flighty and inconsistent manner; but in Hero's phrase, long and elaborate books, in books repeatedly
“Turned every man the wrong side out, transcribed and intended for the public eye. And never gave to truth and virtue that We will give an instance or two; for, without Which simpleness and merit purehaseth." instances, readers not very familiar with his In this way any man may, with little saga. works will scarcely understand our meaning. city and little trouble, be considered, by those In the “ Anecdotes of Painting,” he states, very whose good opinion is not worth having, as a truly, that the art declined after the commence- great judge of character. ment of the civil wars. He proceeds to in- It is said that the hasty and rapacious Knelquire why this happened. The explanation, ler used to send away the ladies who sate to we should have thought, would have been him iter sketching their faces, and to paint easily found. The loss of the most munificent the lisure and hands from his housemaid. It and judicious patron that the fine arts ever was much in the same way that Walpole por. had in England-for such undoubtedly was trayed the minds of others. He copied from Charles—the troubled state of the country, the ihe life only those glaring and obvious pecudistressed condition of many of the aristocracy, liarities, which could not escape the most superhaps also the austerity of the victorious perficial observation. The rest of the canvass party—these circumstances, we conceive, fully he filled up in a careless dashing way, with account for the phenomenon. But this soluknave and fool, mixed in such proportions as tion was not odd enough to satisfy Walpole. pleased Heaven. What a difference between He discovers another cause for the decline of ihese daubs and the masterly portraits of Clathe art, the want of models. Nothing worth rendon ! painting, it seems, was left to paint. “How There are contradictions without end in the picturesque," he exclaims, “was the figure of sketches of character which abound in Walan Anabaptist!" As if puritanism had put out pole's works. But if we were to form our the sun and withered the trees; as if the civil opinion of his eminent contemporaries from a wars had blotted out the expression of charac- general survey of what he has written conter and passion from the human lip and brow; cerning them, we should say that Pitt was a as if many of the men whom Vandyke painted, strutting, ranting, mouthing actor; Charles had not been living in the time of the Com- Townshend, an impudent and voluble jackmonwealth, with faces little the worse for pudding ; Murray, a demure, cold-blooded, wear; as if many of the beauties afterwards cowardly hypocrite; Hardwicke, an insolent portrayed by Lely were not in their prime be upstart, with the understanding of a pettifogfore the Restoration; as if the costume or the ger and the heart of a hangman; Temple, an features of Cromwell and Milton were less pic- impertinent poltroon; Egmont, a solemn coxturesque than those of the round-faced peers, comb; Lyttleton, a poor creature, whose only as like each other as cggs to eggs, who look wish was to go to heaven in a coronet; out from the middle of the periwigs of Kneller. Onslow, a pompous proser; Washington, a In the “Memoirs," again, 'Walpole sneers at braggart; Lord Camden, sullen; Lord Townthe Prince of Wales, afterwards George the shend, malevolent; Secker, an atheist who Third, for presenting a collection of books to had shammed Christian for a mitre; Whiteone of the American colleges during the Seven field, an impostor who swindled his converts Years' War, and says that, instead of books, out of their watches. The Walpoles fare little His Royal Highness ought to have sent arms better than their neighbours. Old Horace is and ammunition ; as if a war ought to suspend constantly represented as a coarse, brutal, nig. all study and all education; or as if it were the gardly buffoon, and his son as worthy of such business of the Prince of Wales to supply the a father. In short, if we are to trust this dis. colonies with military stores out of his own cerning judge of human nature, England in pocket. We have perhaps dwelt too long on his time contained little sense and no virtue, these passages, but we have done so because except what was distributed between himself, they are specimens of Walpole's manner. Lord Waldgrave, and Marshal Conway. Everybody who reads his works with atten- or such a writer it is scarcely necessary sion, will find that they swarm with loose and to say, that his works are destitute of every foolish observations like those which we have charm which is derived from elevation or from cited; observations which might pass in con- tenderness of sentiment. When he chose to rersation or in a hasty letter, but which are be humane and magnanimous—for he someunpardonable in books deliberately written times, by way of variety, tried this affectation and repeatedly corrected.
-he overdid his part most ludicrously. None He appears to have thought that he saw of his many disguises sate so awkwardly upona very far into men· but we are under the ne-l him. For example, he tells us that he did 700