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300

HORACE'S TWO

STRAW BERRIES."

!

education of his two daughters. The second son generously

. gave up £800 a year to his brother, and the two motherless girls were taken to the Continent, whence they returned the “ best-informed and most perfect creatures that Horace Walpole ever saw at their age.”

Sensible, natural, frank, their conversation proved most agreeable to a man who was sated of grand society, and sick of vanity until he had indulged in vexation of spirit. He discovered by chance only-for there was no pedantry in these truly well-educated women—that the eldest understood Latin, and“ was a perfect Frenchwoman in her language.” Then the youngest drew well; and copied one of Lady Di Beauclerk's pictures, "The Gipsies," though she had never attempted colors before. Then, as to looks: Mary, the eldest, had a sweet face, the more interesting from being pale; with fine dark eyes that were lighted up when she spoke. Ágnes, the younger, was “hardly to be called handsome, but almost with an agreeable, sensible countenance. It is remarkable that women thus delineated—not beauties, yet not plain—are always the most fascinating to men. The sisters doted on each other: Mary taking the lead in society. “I must even

“ tell you,” Horace wrote to the Countess of Ossory," that they dress within the bounds of fashion, but without the excrescences and balconies with which modern hoydens overwhelm and barricade their persons." (One would almost have supposed that Horace had lived in the days of crinoline.)

The first night that Horace met the two sisters, he refused to be introduced to them: having heard so much of them that he concluded they would be "all pretension.” The second night that he met them, he sat next Mary, and found her an“ angel both inside and out.” He did not know which he liked best; but Mary's face, which was formed for a sentimental novel, or still more, for genteel comedy, riveted him, he owned. Mr. Berry, the father, was a little “merry man with a round face,” whom no one would have suspected of sacrificing “all for love, and the world well lost." This delightful family visited him every Sunday evening; the region of Twickenham being too “proclamatory” for cards to be introduced on the seventh day, conversation was tried instead; thankful, indeed, was Horace for the "pearls," as he styled them, thus thrown in his path. His two “ Straw Berries," as he christened them, were henceforth the theme of every letter. He had set up a printing-press many years previously at Strawberry, and on taking the young ladies to see it, he remembered the gallantry of his former days, and they found these stanzas in type:

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TAPPING A NEW REIGN.

301

"To Mary's lips has ancient Rome

Her purest language taught;
And from the modern city home

Agnes its pencil brought.
“Rome's ancient Horace sweetly chants

Such maids with lyric fire;
Albion's old Horace sings nor paints,

He only can admire.
“Still would his press their fame record,

So amiable the pair is!
But, ah ! how vain to think his word

Can add a Straw to Berry's.”
On the following day, Mary, whom he terms the Latin
Nymph, sent the following lines :

“ Had Rome's famed Horace thus addrest

His Lydia or his Lyce,
He had ne'er so oft complained their breast

To him was cold and icy.
“ But had they sought their joy to explain,

Or praise their generous bard,
Perhaps, like me, they had tried in vain,

And felt the task too hard.” The society of this family gave him the truest, and perhaps the only relish he ever had of domestic life. But his mind was harassed toward the close of the eighteenth century, by the insanity not only of his nephew, but by the great national calamity, that of the king. “Every eighty-eight seems,” he remarks, “to be a favorite period with fate;" he was “too ancient,” he said, “to tap what might almost be called a new reign;" of which he was not likely to see much. He never pretended to penetration, but his foresight, “if he gave it the rein," would not prognosticate much felicity to the country from the madness of his father, and the probable regency of the Prince of Wales. His happiest relations were now not with politics or literature, but with Mrs. Damer and the Miss Berrys, to whom he wrote: “I am afraid of protesting how much I delight in your society, lest I should seem to affect being gallant; but, if two negatives make an affirmative, why may not two ridicules compose one piece of sense ? and, therefore, as I am in love with you both, I trust it is a proof of the good sense of your devoted-H. WALPOLE.”

He was doomed, in the decline of life, to witness two great national convulsions: of the insurrection of 1745 he wrote feelingly—justly—almost pathetically: forty-five years later, he was tired, he said, of railing against French barbarity and folly. “Legislators! a Senate! to neglect laws, in order to annihilate coats-of-arms and liveries !" George Selwyn said,

302

THE SIGN OF THE GOTHIC CASTLE.

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that Monsieur the king's brother was the only man of rank from whom they could not take a title. His alarm at the idea of his two young friends going to the Continent was excessive. The flame of revolution had burst forth at Florence: Flanders was not a safe road; dreadful horrors had been perpetrated at Avignon. Then he relates a characteristic anecdote of poor Marie Antoinette. She went with the king to see the manufacture of glass. As they passed the Halle, the poissardes hurraed them. “Upon my word," said the queen, “these folks are civiler when you visit them than when they visit you."

Walpole's affection for the Miss Berrys cast a glow of happiness over the fast-ebbing year of his life. “In happy days, he wrote to them when they were abroad, “I called you my dear wives; now I can only think of you as darling children, of whom I am bereaved.” He was proud of their affection; proud of their spending many hours with “a very old man, while they were the objects of general admiration. These charming women survived until our own time: the centre of a circle of the leading characters in literature, politics, art, rank, and virtue. They are remembered with true regret. The fullness of their age perfected the promise of their youth. Samuel Rogers used to say that they had lived in the reign of Queen Anne, so far back seemed their memories which were so coupled to the past; but the youth of their minds, their feelings, their intelligence, remained almost to the last.

For many years Horace Walpole continued, in spite of incessant attacks of the gout, to keep almost open house at Strawberry; in short, he said, he kept an inn-the sign, the Gothic Castle: “Take my advice,” he wrote to a friend, “never build a charming house for yourself between London and Hampton Court; every body will live in it but you."

The death of Lady Suffolk, in 1767, had been an essential loss to her partial, and not too rigid neighbors. Two days before the death of George II., she had gone to Kensington, not knowing that there was a review there. Hemmed in by coaches, she found herself close to George II. and to Lady Yarmouth. Neither of them knew her—a circumstance which greatly affected the countess.

Horace Walpole was now desirous of growing old with dignity. He had no wish “ to dress up a withered person, nor to drag it about to public places;” but he was equally averse from “sitting at home, wrapped up in flannels, to receive condolences from people he did not care for—and attentions from relations who were impatient for his death. Well might a writer in the “Quarterly Review” remark, that our most

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GROWING OLD WITH DIGNITY.

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useful lessons in reading Walpole's Letters are not only derived from his sound sense, but from“considering this man of the world, full of information and sparkling with vivacity, stretched on a sick-bed, and apprehending all the tedious languor of helpless decrepitude and deserted solitude.” His later years had been diversified by correspondence with Hannah More, who sent him her poems of the Bas into which she had introduced his name. In 1786 she visited him at Strawberry Hill. He was then a martyr to the gout, but with spirits gay as ever : “I never knew a man suffer pain with such entire patience,” was Hannah More's remark. His correspondence with her continued regularly; but that with the charming sisters was delightfully interrupted by their residence at Little Strawberry Hill— Cliveden, as it was also called, where day after day, night after night, they gleaned stores from that rich fund of anecdote which went back to the days of George I., touched even on the anterior epoch of Anne, and came in volumes of amusement down to the very era when the old man was sitting by his parlor fire, happy with his wives near him, resigned and cheerful. For his young friends he composed his “ Reminiscences of the Court of England.”

He still wrote cheerfully of his physical state, in which eyesight was perfect; hearing little impaired; and though his hands and feet were crippled, he could use them; and since he neither swished to box, to wrestle, nor to dance a hornpipe,” he was contented.

His character became softer, his wit less caustic, his heart more tender, his talk more reverent, as he approached the term of a long, prosperous life—and knew, practically, the small value of all that he had once too fondly prized.

His later years were disturbed by the marriage of his niece Maria Waldegrave to the Duke of Gloucester; but the severest interruption to his peace was his own succession to an earldom.

In 1791, George, Earl of Orford, expired; leaving an estate encumbered with debt, and, added to the bequest, a series of lawsuits threatened to break down all remaining comfort in the mind of the uncle, who had already suffered so much on the young

man's account. He disdained the honors which brought him such solid trouble, with such empty titles, and for some time refused to sign himself otherwise, but “Uncle to the late Earl of Orford.” He was certainly not likely to be able to walk in his robes to the House of Lords, or to grace a levee. However, he thanked God he was free from pain. “Since all my fingers are useless,” he wrote to Hannah More, "and that I have only six

304

WALPOLE'S LAST HOURS.

hairs left, I am not very much grieved at not being able to comb my head !" To Hannah More he wrote, in all sincerity, referring to his elevation to the peerage: “For the other empty metamorphosis that has happened to the outward man, you do me justice in believing that it can do nothing but tease me; it is being called names in one's old age:" in fact, he reckoned on being styled “Lord Methusalem.” He had lived to hear of the cruel deaths of the once gay and high-born friends whom he had known in Paris, by the guillotine: he had lived to execrate the monsters who drove the grandest heroine of modern times, Marie Antoinette, to madness; he lived to censure the infatuation of religious zeal in the Birmingham riots. “Are not the devils escaped out of the swine, and overrunning the earth headlong ?” he asked in one of his letters.

He had offered his hand, and all the ambitious views which it opened, to each of the Miss Berrys successively, but they refused to bear his name, though they still cheered his solitude: and, strange to say, two of the most admired and beloved women of their time remained single.

In 1796, the sinking invalid was persuaded to remove to Berkeley Square, to be within reach of good and prompt advice. He consented unwillingly, for his “Gothic Castle" was his favorite abode. He left it with a presentiment that he should see it no more; but he followed the proffered advice, and in the spring of the year was established in Berkeley Square. His mind was still clear. He seems to have cherished to the last a concern for that literary fame which he affected to despise. “Literature has,” he says, “ many revolutions; if an author could rise from the dead, after a hundred years, what would be his surprise at the adventures of his works ! I often say, perhaps my books may be published in Paternoster Row !” He would indeed have been astonished at the vast circulation of his Letters, and the popularity which has carried them into every aristocratic family in England. It is remarkable that among the middle and lower classes they are far less known. He was essentially the chronicler, as well as the wit and beau, of St. James's, of Windsor, and Richmond. At last he declared that he should "be content with a sprig of rosemary” thrown on him when the parson of the parish commits his “dust to dust." The end of his now suffering existence was near at hand. Irritability, one of the unpitied accompaniments of weakness, seemed to compete with the gathering clouds of mental darkness as the last hour drew on. At intervals there were flashes of a wit that appeared at that solemn moment hardly natural, and that must have startled,

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