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“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 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, afterward 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 £2000 a year, but which was crippled with various incumbrances. 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 afterward 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,
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, disgrace as he was to the English aristocracy, 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 without 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 court
LITTLE HORACE” IN ARLINGTON STREET.
ing 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, while 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; while 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 affected, 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 favor so unusual to be asked by a boy of ten years old,” he afterward wrote in his “Reminiscences, was still too slight to be refused to the wife of the first minister and her
CHARACTERISTIC ANECDOTE OF GEORGE I.
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 afterward 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, in-favored 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-colored cloth, and his stockings of the same color. By the blue ribbons 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, etc.; 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 oron fish, out
of my own canal, in my own park!” In spite of some agreeable qualities, George I. was, however, any thing 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 afterward 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 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 commonplace, 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.