« PreviousContinue »
SIR THOMAS ROBINSON'S BALL.
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-andtwenty couples danced country-dances, in two sets, twelve and twelve, “there was Lady Sophia, handsomer than ever, but a little out of humor at the scarcity of minuets;" however, as usual, dancing more than any body, 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.
His pique and resentment toward her mother, who had higher views for her beautiful daughter, begins at this period to show itself, and never dies 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, etc. Don't you love her ? Lord Lincoln does her daughter-Lady Sophia Fer
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 gentieman 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 every body 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 banded 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 bis eulogium in the character of Henry VI.
“Ascend the temple, join the vocal choir,
And call forth tears from soft-eyed Penitence."
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 favorite 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 grand
eur 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,
I tremble to think how these changes may end.” Horace, in spite of 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 colors 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
THE SPLENDID MANSION OF HOUGHTON.
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 Oxford, 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 humorous, 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,
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 in 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 can not 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 speak
ing canvas, all the airs and graces the proudest ladies can boast."
In these pursuits Horace cordially shared. Through his agency, Horace Mann, still 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."
Among 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 honor still, was Sir Robert's preservation of St. James's Park for the people. Fond of out-door 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, Manheim, 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