« PreviousContinue »
He was now in possession of an income of £1700 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 Étonian 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 pummeling King Amulius's herdsmen."*
“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."
Popular among 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 bad 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. * Life by Warburton, p. 70.
† Ibid. p. 63.
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 “quality." 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
a 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 criticism, 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 quarreled—and we almost reverence Gray for it, 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, re
turned 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 bis somewhat priggish, 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: à 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.
While 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 impulsestill 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
* Gray migrated to Pembroke in 1756.
WALPOLE'S DESCRIPTION OF YOUTHFUL DELIGHTS.
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 can not 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, while 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 £32 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 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.” 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 virtù, 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. “Iam 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, afterward married to Mr. Penn. The Earl of Pomfret had been master of the horse to Queen Caroline: Lady Pomfret, lady of the bedchamber. “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 cortège-a boast which he never fulfilled. Lady Sophia Fermor, the eldest daughter, who afterward 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-much. 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:
“ Lady Pomfret I saw last night. Lady Sophia has been ill with a cold; her head is to be dressed French, and her body
* The accomplished novelist, Mrs. Gore, famous for her facility.