Imágenes de páginas

he was actuated by public spirit; nor does he appear to have had any private advantage in view. He thought it a good practical joke to set public men together by the ears; and he enjoyed their perplexities, their accusations, and their recriminations, as a malicious boy enjoys the embarrassment of a misdirected traveller.

About politics, in the high sense of the word, he knew nothing and cared nothing. He called himself a Whig. His father's son could scarcely assume any other name. It pleased him also to affect a foolish aversion to kings as kings, and a foolish love and admiration of rebels as rebels; and, perhaps, while kings were not in danger, and while rebels were not in being, he really believed that he held the doctrines which he professed. To go no farther than the letters now before us, he is perpetually boasting to his friend Mann of his aversion to royalty and to royal persons. He calls the crime of Damien "that least bad of murders, the murder of a king." He hung up in his villa a fac-simile of the death-warrant of Charles, with the inscription, "Major Charta." Yet the most superficial knowledge of history might have taught him that the Restoration, and the crimes and follies of the twenty-eight years which followed the Restoration, were the effects of this "Greater Charter." Nor was there much in the means by which the instrument was obtained which could gratify a judicious lover of liberty. A man must hate kings very bitterly, before he can think it desirable that the representatives of the people should be turned out of doors by dragoons, in order to get at a king's head. Walpole's Whigism, however, was of a very harmless kind. He kept it, as he kept the old spears and helmets at Strawberry Hill, merely for show. He would just as soon have thought of taking down the arms of the ancient Templars and Hospitallers from the walls of his hall, and setting off on a crusade to the Holy Land, as of acting in the spirit of those daring warriors and statesmen, great even in their errors, whose names and seals were affixed to the warrant which he prized so highly. He liked revolution and regicide only when they were a hundred years old. His republicanism, like the courage of a bully or the love of a fribble, was strong and ardent when there was no occasion for it, and subsided when he had an opportunity of bringing it to the proof. As soon as the revolutionary spirit really began to stir in Europe, as soon as the hatred of kings became something more than a sonorous phrase, he was frightened into a fanatical royalist, and became one of the most extravagant alarmists of those wretched times. In truth, his talk about liberty, whether he knew it or not, was from the beginning a mere cant, the remains of a phraseology which had meant something in the mouths of those from whom he had learned it, but which, in his mouth, meant about as much as the oath by which the Knights of the Bath bind themselves to redress the wrongs of all injured ladies. He had been fed in his boyhood with Whig speculations on government. He must often have seen, at

Houghton or in Downing street, men who had been Whigs when it was as dangerous to be a Whig as to be a highwayman; men who had voted for the exclusion bill, who had been con cealed in garrets and cellars after the battle of Sedgmoor, and who had set their names to the declaration that hey would live and die with the Prince of Orange. He had acquired the language of these men, and he repeated it by rote, though it was at variance with all his tastes and feelings; just as some old Jacobite families persisted in praying for the Pretender, and passing their g'asses over the water-decanter when they drank the king's health, long after they had become realous supporters of the government of George the Third. He was a Whig by the accident of hereditary connection; but he was essentially a courtier, and not the less a courtier because he pretended to sneer at the object which excited his admiration and envy. His real tastes perpetually show themselves through the thin disguise. While professing all the contempt of Bradshaw or Ludlow for crowned heads, he took the trouble to write a book concerning Royal Authors. He pried with the utmost anxiety into the most minute particulars relating to the royal family. When he was a child, he was haunted with a longing to see George the First, and gave his mother no peace till she had found a way of gratifying his curiosity. The same feeling, covered with a thousand disguises, attended him to the grave. No observation that dropped from the lips of majesty seemed to him too trifling to be recorded. The French songs of Prince Frederic, compositions certainly not deserving of preservation on account of their intrinsic merit, have been carefully preserved for us by this contemner of royalty. In truth, every page of Walpole's works betrayed him. This Diogenes, who would be thought to prefer his tub to a palace, and who has nothing to ask of the masters of Windsor and Versailles but that they will stand out of his light, is a gentleman-usher at heart.

He had, it is plain, an uneasy consciousness of the frivolity of his favourite pursuits; and this consciousness produced one of the most diverting of his ten thousand affectations. His busy idleness, his indifference to matters which the world generally regards as important, his passion for trifles, he thought fit to dignify with the name of philosophy. He spoke of himself as of a man whose equanimity was proof to ambitious hopes and fears; who had learned to rate power, wealth, and fame at their true value, and whom the conflict of parties, the rise and fall of statesmen, the ebbs and flows of public opinion, moved only to a smile of mingled compassion and disdain. It was owing to the peculiar elevation of his character, that he cared about a lath and plaster pinnacle more than about the Middlesex election, and about a miniature of Grammont more than about the American Revolution. Pitt and Murray might talk themselves hoarse about trifles. But questions of government and wa were too insignificant to detain a mind which was occupied in recording the scandal of club

rooms and the whispers of the backstairs, and which was even capable of selecting and disposing chairs of ebony and shields of rhinoceros-skin.

affected superciliousness and apathy of a man of ton.

His judgment of literature, of contemporary 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 univer ever troubled himself so 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 stales faisait a vorter chez lui, et en donnait àtion, 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 Lis 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, Camattended 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 wo'd 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 a boy. But a man of forty-three, as Walpole then was, ought to be quite as much ashamed of playing at loo till three every morning, as of being so vulgar a thing as a learned gentleman.

Walpole judged of French literature after the same fashion. He understood and loved the French language. Indeed, he loved it too well. His style is more deeply tainted with Gallicisms than that of any other English writer with whom we are acquainted. His composition often reads, for a page together, like a rude translation from the French. We meet every minute with such sentences as these, "One knows what temperaments Annibal Caracci painted." "The impertinent personage!" "She is dead rich." "Lord Dalkeith is dead of the small-pox in three days."

The literary character has undoubtedly its full share of faults, and of very serious and offensive faults. If Walpole had avoided those faults, we could have pardoned the fastidiousness with which he declined all fellowship with men of learning. But from those faults Walpole was not one jot more free than the 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 will and his works contain as many instances as now be seen whether he or they are most pa the life and the works of any member of triot." Johnson's club. The fact is, that Walpole had the faults of Grub street, with a large addition from St. James's street, the vanity, the jealousy, the irritability of a man of letters, the

His love of the French language was of a peculiar kind. He lovea it as having been for a century the vehicle of all the polite nothings of Europe: as the sign by which the freema


sons of fashion recognised each other in every close with a good hope for France and for capital from Petersburg to Naples; as the language 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. While the most eminent Frenchmen were studying with enthusiastic delight English politics and English philosophy, he was study. ing as intently the gossip of the old court of France. The fashions and scandal of Versailles and Marli, fashions and scandal a hun. dred years old, occupied him infinitely more than a great moral revolution which was taking place in his sight. He took a prodi gious interest in every noble sharper whose vast volume of wig and infinite length of riband had figured at the dressing or at the tucking up of Louis the Fourteenth, and of every profligate woman of quality who bad In the time of Walpole, this process of in- carried her train of lovers backward and forterpretation was in full activity. The great ward from king 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 jou change 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 pre trines 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 sa 1, 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 Walstantly 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 their political doctrines as incompatible with all law, all property, and all civilization, he would have acknowledged that the subjects of Louis the Fifteenth had every excuse which men could have for being eager to pull down, and for being ignorant of the far higher art of setting up. While anticipating a fierce conflict, a great and wide-wasting destruction, he would yet have looked forward to the final

the expositor of great truths, which would else have perished for want of a voice to utter them with distinctness. The relation which existed between Mr. Bentham and M. Dumont is an exact illustration of the intellectual relation in which the two countries stand to each other. The great discoveries in physics, in metaphysics, in political science, are ours. But no foreign nation except France has received them from us by direct communication. Isolated in our situation, isolated by our manners, we found truth, but we did not impart it. France has been the interpreter between England and mankind.

It is impossible to deny, however, that Walpole's works have real merit, and merit of a very rare, though not of a very high kind. Sir Joshua Reynolds used to say, that though nobedy would for a moment compare Claude to Raphael, there would be another Raphael before there was another Claude. And we own that we expect to see fresh Humes and fresh Burkes before we again fall in with that peculiar combination of moral and intellectua

[ocr errors]

qualities to which the writings of Walpole owe | cessity of altogether dissenting from his opi their extraordinary popularity.

It is easy to describe him by negatives. He had not a creative imagination. He had not a pure taste. He was not a great reasoner. There is indeed scarcely any writer, in whose works it would be possible to find so many contradictory judgments, so many sentences of extravagant nonsense. Nor was it only in his familiar correspondence that he wrote in this flighty and inconsistent manner; but in long and elaborate books, in books repeatedly transcribed and intended for the public eye. We will give an instance or two; for, without instances, readers not very familiar with his works will scarcely understand our meaning. In the "Anecdotes of Painting," he states, very truly, that the art declined after the commencement of the civil wars. He proceeds to inquire why this happened. The explanation, we should have thought, would have been easily found. The loss of the most munificent and judicious patron that the fine arts ever had in England-for such undoubtedly was Charles-the troubled state of the country, the distressed condition of many of the aristocracy, perhaps also the austerity of the victorious party-these circumstances, we conceive, fully account for the phenomenon. But this solution was not odd enough to satisfy Walpole. He discovers another cause for the decline of the art, the want of models. Nothing worth 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 pettifog fore 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 eggs 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, nigall 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 discolonies 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 attention, will find that they swarm with loose and foolish observations like those which we have cited; observations which might pass in conversation or in a hasty letter, but which are unpardonable in book deliberately written and repeatedly corrected.

Of such a writer it is scarcely necessary to say, that his works are destitute of every charm which is derived from elevation or from tenderness of sentiment. When he chose to be humane and magnanimous-for he som times, by way of variety, tried this affectation -he overdid his part most ludicrously. None of his many disguises sate so awkwardly upou him. For example, he tells us that he did no

He appears to have thought that he saw very far into men but we are under the ne

nion. We do not conceive that he had any power of discerning the finer shades of cha racter. He practised an art, however, which, though easy and even vulgar, obtains for those who practise it the reputation of discernment with ninety-nine people out of a hundred. He sneered at everybody, put on every action the worst construction which it would bear, "spelt every man backward;" to borrow the Lady Hero's phrase,

"Turned every man the wrong side out, And never gave to truth and virtue that Which simpleness and merit purchaseth.” In this way any man may, with little sagacity and little trouble, be considered, by those whose good opinion is not worth having, as a great judge of character.

It is said that the hasty and rapacious Kne' ler used to send away the ladies who sate to him ter sketching their faces, and to paint the ure and hands from his housemaid. It was much in the same way that Walpole portrayed the minds of others. He copied from the life only those glaring and obvious peculiarities, which could not escape the most su perficial observation. The rest of the canvass he filled up in a careless dashing way, with knave and fool, mixed in such proportions as pleased Heaven. What a difference between these daubs and the masterly portraits of Clarendon !

choose to be intimate with Mr. Pitt; and why? | of Florence. Walpole is constantly showing Because Mr. Pitt had been among the perse- us things-not of very great value indeed-yet cutors of his father; or because, as he repeat- things which we are pleased to see, and which edly assures us, Mr. Pitt was a disagreeable we can see nowhere else. They are baubles; man in private life? Not at all; but because but they are made curiosities either by his gro Mr. Pitt was too fond of war, and was great tesque workmanship, or by some association with too little reluctance. Strange, that an belonging to them. His style is one of those habitual scoffer like Walpole should imagine peculiar styles by which everybody is attract that this cant could impose on the dullest ed, and which nobody can safely venture to reader! If Molière had put such a speech imitate. He is a mannerist whose manner into the mouth of Tartuffe, we should have has become perfectly easy to him. His affecta. said that the fiction was unskilful, and that tion is so habitual, and so universal, that it Orgon could not have been such a fool as to can hardly be called affectation. The affecta be taken in by it. Of the twenty-six years tion is the essence of the man. It pervades during which Walpole sat in Parliament, thic-all his thoughts and all his expressions. If it teen were years of war. Yet he did not, during were taken away, nothing would be left. He all those thirteen years, utter a single word, or coins new words, distorts the senses of old give a single vote, tending to peace. His most words, and twists sentences into forms which intimate friend, the only friend, indeed, to whom make grammarians stare. But all this he he appears to have been sincerely attached, does, not only with an air of ease, but as if he Conway, was a soldier, was fond of his pro- could not help doing it. His wit was, in its fession, and was perpetually entreating Mr. essential properties, of the same kind with that Pitt to give him employment. In this, Wal- of Cowley and Donne. Like theirs, it conpole saw nothing but what was admirable.sisted in an exquisite perception of points of Conway was a hero for soliciting the com- analogy, and points of contrast too subtle for mand of expeditions, which Mr. Pitt was a common observation. Like them, Walpole monster for sending out. perpetually startles us by the ease with which he yokes together ideas between which there would seem, at first sight, to be no connection. But he did not, like them, affect the gravity of a lecture, and draw his illustrations from the laboratory and from the schools. His tone was light and fleering; his topics were the topics of the club and the ball-room. And therefore his strange combinations and farfetched allusions, though very closely resem

What then is the charm, the irresistible charm of Walpole's writings? It consists, we think, in the art of amusing without exciting. He never convinces the reason, nor fills the imagination, nor touches the heart; but he keeps the mind of the reader constantly attentive and constantly entertained. He had a strange ingenuity peculiarly his own, an ingenuity which appeared in all that he did, in his building, in his gardening, in his up-bling those which tire us to death in the poems holstery, in the matter and in the manner of of the time of Charles the First, are read with his writings. If we were to adopt the classi-pleasure constantly new.

No man who has written so much is so seldom tiresome. In his books there are scarcely any of those passages which, in our school days, we used to call skip. Yet he often wrote on subjects which are generally considered as dull; on subjects which men of great talents have in vain endeavoured to render popular. When we compare the "Historic Doubts" about Richard the Third with Whitaker's and Chalmer's book on a far more interesting question, the character of Mary Queen of Scots; when we compare the "Anecdotes of Painting" with Nichols's "Anecdotes," or even with Mr. D'Israeli's "Quarrels of Authors," and "Calamities of Authors," we at once see Walpole's superiority, not in industry, not in learning, not in accuracy, not in logical power, but in the art of writing what people will like to read. He rejects all but the attractive parts of his subject. He keeps only what is in itself Aamusing, or what can be made so by the arti fice of his diction. The coarser morsels of antiquarian learning he abandons to others; and sets out an entertainment worthy of a Roman epicure, an entertainment consisting of nothing but delicacies-the brains of singing birds, the roe of mullets, the sunny halves of peaches. This, we think, is the great merit of his "Romance." There is little skill in the delineation of the characters. Manfred is as commonplace a tyrant, Jerome as commonplace

fication-not a very accurate classification— which Akenside has given of the pleasures of the Imagination, we should say that with the Sublime and the Beautiful Walpole had nothing to do, but that the third province, the Odd, was his peculiar domain. The motto which he prefixed to his "Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors," might have been inscribed with perfect propriety over the door of every room in his house, and on the titlepage of every one of his books. "Dove diavolo, Messer Ludovico, avete pigliate tante coglionerie?" In his villa, every apartment is a museum, every piece of furniture is a curiosity; there is something strange in the form of the shovel; there is a long story belonging to the bell-rope. We wander among a profusion of rarities, of trifling intrinsic value, but so quaint in fashion, or connected with such remarkable names and events, that they may well detain our attention for a moment. moment is enough. Some new relic, some new unique, some new carved work, some new enamel, is forthcoming in an instant. One cabinet of trinkets is no sooner closed than another is opened. It is the same with Walpole's writings. It is not in their utility, it is not in their beauty, that their attraction lies. They are to the works of great historians and poets, what Strawberry Hill is to the museum of Sir Hans Sloane, or to the Gallery

« AnteriorContinuar »