Page images
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]

per

previously made by Lord Arundel and Lord Pembroke, to embellish their country seats. Then came the rebellion; and like a mighty rushing river, made a chasm in which much ished. Art languished in the reign of the second Charles, excepting in what related to portrait-painting. Evelyn stood almost alone in his then secluded and lovely retirement at Wotton; apart in his undying exertions still to arrest the Muses ere they quitted forever English shores. Then came the deadly blank of William's icy influence. The reign of Anne was conspicuous more for letters than for art: architecture, more especially, was vulgarized under Vanbrugh. George I. had no conception of any thing abstract: taste, erudition, science, art, were like a dead language to his common sense, his vulgar profligacy, and his personal predilections. Neither George II. nor his queen had an iota of taste, either in language, conduct, literature, or art. To be vulgar was haut ton; to be refined, to have pursuits that took one from low party gossip, or heterodox disquisitions upon party, was esteemed odd: every thing original was cramped; every thing imaginative was sneered at; the enthusiasm that is elevated by religion was unphilosophic; the poetry that is breathed out from the works of genius was not comprehended.

It was at Houghton, under the roof of that monster palace, that Horace Walpole indulged that taste for pictures which he had acquired in Italy. His chief coadjutor, however, as far as the antiquities of painting are concerned, was George Vertue, the eminent engraver. Vertue was a man of modest merit, and was educated merely as an engraver; but, conscious of talent, studied drawing, which he afterward applied to engraving. He was patronized both by the vain Godfrey Kneller, and by the intellectual Lord Somers: his works have more fidelity than elegance, and betray in every line the antiquary rather than the genius. Vertue was known to be a firstrate authority as to the history of a painter; he was admitted and welcomed into every great country house in England; he lived in an atmosphere of vertù; every line a dilettante collector wrote, every word he uttered, was minuted down by him; he visited every collection of rarities; he copied every paper he could find relative to art; registers of wills and registers of parishes, for births and deaths were his delight; sales his recreation. He was the "Old Mortality" of pictures in this country. No wonder that his compilations were barely contained in forty volumes, which he left in manuscript. Human nature has singular varieties: here was a man who expended his very existence in gathering up the works of others, and died without giving to the world one of his own. But Horace

[blocks in formation]

Walpole has done him justice. After Vertue's death he bought his manuscripts from his widow. In one of his pocket-books was contained the whole history of this man of one idea. Vertue began his collection in 1713, and worked at it until his death in 1757, forty-four years.

He died in the belief that he should one day publish an unique work on painting and painters: such was the aim of his existence, and his study must have been even more curious than the wonderfully crammed small house at Islington, where William Upcott, the "Old Mortality" in his line, who saved from the housemaid's fire-lighting designs the MSS. of Evelyn's Life and Letters, which he found tossing about in the old gallery at Wotton, near Dorking, passed his days. Like Upcott, like Palissy, Vertue lived and died under the influence of one isolated aim, effort, and hope.

In these men the cherished and amiable monomania of gifted minds was realized. Upcott had every possible autograph from every known hand in his collection; Palissy succeeded in making glazed china; but Vertue left his ore to the hands of others to work out into shape, and the man who moulded his crude materials was Horace Walpole. His forty volumes were shaped into a readable work, as curious and accurate in facts as it is flippant and prejudiced in style and opinions.

Walpole's "Anecdotes of Painting" are the foundation of all our small amount of knowledge as to what England has done formerly to encourage art.

One may fancy the modest, ingenious George Vertue arranging first, and then making a catalogue of the Houghton Gallery: Horace, a boy still, in looks, with a somewhat chubby face, admiring and following: Sir Robert, in a cocked hat, edged with silver lace, a curled short wig, a loose coat, also edged with silver lace, and with a half-humorous expression on his vulgar conntenance, watching them at intervals, as they paraded through the hall, a large square space, adorned with bas-reliefs and busts, and containing a bronze copy of the Laocoon, for which Sir Robert (or rather we English) paid a thousand pounds; or they might be seen hopping speedily through the ground-floor apartments where there could be little to arrest the footsteps of the medieval-minded Vertue. Who but a courtier could give one glance to a portrait of George I., though by Kneller? Who that was a courtier in that house would pause to look at the resemblance, also by Kneller, of the short-lived, ill-used Catherine Shorter, the Premier's first wife-even though he still endured it in his bedroom? a mute reproach for his neglect and misconduct. So let us hasten to the yellow dining-room where presently we

272

THE NOBLE PICTURE-GALLERY AT HOUGHTON.

may admire the works of Titian, Guido, Vanderwerf, and last, not least, eleven portraits by Vandyck, of the Wharton family, which Sir Robert bought at the sale of the spendthrift Duke of Wharton.

Then let us glance at the saloon, famed for the four large "Market Pieces," as they were called, by Rubens and Snyders: let us lounge into what were called the Carlo Maratti and the Vandyck rooms; step we also into the green velvet bed-chamber, the tapestry-room, the worked bed-chamber; then comes another dining-room: in short, we are lost in wonder at this noble collection, which cost £40,000.

Many of the pictures were selected and bargained for by Vertue, who, in Flanders, purchased the Market Pieces referred to, for £428; but did not secure the "Fish Market," and the "Meat Market," by the same painter. In addition to the pictures, the stateliness and beauty of the rooms were enhanced by rich furniture, carving, gilding, and all the subsidiary arts which our grandfathers loved to add to high merit in design or coloring. Besides his purchases, Sir Robert received presents of pictures from friends, and expectant courtiers; and the gallery at Houghton contained at last 222 pictures. To our sorrow now, to our disgrace then, this splendid collection was suffered to go out of the country: Catherine, Empress of Russia, bought it for £40,000, and it adorns the Hermitage Palace of St. Petersburg.

After Sir Robert's retirement from power, the good qualities which he undoubtedly possessed, seemed to reappear when the pressure of party feeling was withdrawn. He was fast declining in health when the insurrection of 1745 was impending. He had warned the country of its danger in his last speech, one of the finest ever made in the House of Lords: after that effort his voice was heard no more. The gallant, unfortunate Charles Edward was then at Paris, and that scope of old experience

[merged small][ocr errors]

showed the ex-minister of Great Britain that an invasion was at hand. It was on this occasion that Frederick, Prince of Wales, took Sir Robert, then Lord Orford, by the hand, and thanked him for his zeal in the cause of the royal family. Walpole returned to Norfolk, but was summoned again to London to afford the ministry the benefit of his counsels. Death, however, closed his prosperous but laborious life. He suffered agonies from the stone; large doses of opium kept him in a state of stupor, and alone gave him ease; but his strength failed, and he was warned to prepare himself for his

THE GRANVILLE FACTION.

273

decease. He bore the announcement with great fortitude, and took leave of his children in perfect resignation to his doom. He died on the 28th of March, 1745.

Horace Walpole-whatsoever doubts may rest on the fact of his being Lord Orford's son or not-writes feelingly and naturally upon this event, and its forerunner, the agonies of disease. He seems, from the following passages in his letters to Sir Horace Mann, to have devoted himself incessantly to the patient invalid: on his father having rallied, he thus expresses himself:

"You have heard from your brother the reason of my not having written to you so long. I have been out but twice since my father fell into this illness, which is now near a month, and all that time either continually in his room, or obliged to see multitudes of people; for it is wonderful how every body of all kinds has affected to express their concern for him! He has been out of danger this week; but I can't say he mended at all perceptibly till these last three days. His spirits are amazing, and his constitution more; for Ďr. Hulse said honestly from the first, that if he recovered it would be from his own strength, not from their art. How much more," he adds, mournfully, "he will ever recover, one scarce dare hope about; for us, he is greatly recovered; for himself" He then breaks off.

A month after we find him thus referring to the parent still throbbing in mortal agony on the death-bed, with no chance of amendment:

"How dismal a prospect for him, with the possession of the greatest understanding in the world, not the least impaired, to lie without any use of it! for to keep him from pains and restlessness, he takes so much opiate that he is scarce awake four hours of the four-and-twenty; but I will say no more of this."

On the 29th of March he again wrote to his friend in the following terms:

"I begged your brothers to tell you what it is impossible for me to tell you. You share in our common loss! Don't expect me to enter at all upon the subject. After the melancholy two months that I have passed, and in my situation, you will not wonder I shun a conversation which could not be bounded by a letter, a letter that would grow into a panegyric or a piece of a moral; improper for me to write upon, and too distressful for us both! a death is only to be felt, never to be talked upon by those it touches."

Nevertheless, the world soon had Horace Walpole for her own again; during Lord Orford's last illness, George II.

274

A VERY GOOD QUARREL.

thought of him, it seems, even though the "Granvilles" were the only people tolerated at court. That famous clique comprised the secretly adored of Horace (Lady Grenville once), Lady Sophia Fermor.

66

"The Granville faction," Horace wrote, before his father's death, are still the constant and only countenanced people at court. Lord Winchelsea, one of the disgraced, played at court at Twelfth-night, and won; the king asked him next morning how much he had for his own share. He replied, 'Sir, about a quarter's salary.' I liked the spirit, and was talking to him of it the next night at Lord Granville's. Why yes,' said he, 'I think it showed familiarity at least: tell it your father, I don't think he will dislike it.""

The most trifling incidents divided the world of fashion and produced the bitterest rancor. Indeed, nothing could exceed the frivolity of the great, except their impertinence. For want of better amusements, it had become the fashion to make conundrums, and to have printed books full of them, which were produced at parties. But these were peaceful diversions. The following anecdote is worthy of the times of George II. and of Frederick of Wales:

"There is a very good quarrel," Horace writes, "on foot, between two duchesses: she of Queensberry sent to invite Lady Emily Lenox to a ball: her grace of Richmond, who is wonderfully cautious since Lady Caroline's elopement (with Mr. Fox), sent word 'she could not determine. The other sent again the same night: the same answer. The Queensberry then sent word that she had made up her company, desired to be excused from having Lady Emily's; but at the bottom of the card wrote, "Too great trust.' There is no declaration of war come out from the other duchess; but I believe it will be made a national quarrel of the whole illegitimate royal family."

and

Meantime, Houghton was shut up: for its owner died £50,000 in debt, and the elder brother of Horace, the second Lord Orford, proposed, on entering it again, after keeping it closed for some time, to enter upon 66 new, and then very unknown economy, for which there was great need:" thus Horace refers to the changes.

It was in the South Sea scheme that Sir Robert Walpole had realized a large sum of money, by selling out at the right moment. In doing so he had gained 1000 per cent. But he left little to his family, and at his death Horace received a legacy only of £5000, and a thousand pounds yearly, which he was to draw (for doing nothing), from the collector's place in the Custom House; the surplus to be divided between his brother

« PreviousContinue »