AKA Horatio Walpole
Birthplace: London, England
Location of death: Berkeley Square, London, England
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, St. Martin Churchyard, Houghton Hall, Norfolk, England
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Author, Politician
Executive summary: Wrote the first Gothic novel
Horace (or Horatio) Walpole, English politician and man of letters, 4th Earl of Orford -- a title to which he only succeeded at the end of his life, and by which he is little known -- was born in Arlington Street, London, on the 24th of September 1717. He was the youngest of the five children of the 1st Earl of Orford (Sir Robert Walpole) by Catherine Shorter, but by some of the scandal-mongers of a later age, Carr, Lord Hervey, half-brother of John, Lord Hervey, afterwards second Earl of Bristol, has been called his father. If this unlikely rumor be correct, no such suspicion ever entered into the mind of Horace Walpole. To his mother he erected a monument, with an inscription couched in terms of sincere affection, in the chapel of Henry VII in Westminster Abbey, and from the beginning to the end of his public life his sarcasms never spared the Newcastles and the Hardwickes, who had shown, as he thought, lukewarmness in support of his father's ministry. On the 26th of April 1727 he was sent to Eton, where he formed what was known as the "Quadruple Alliance" with Thomas Gray, Richard West and Thomas Ashton, and became very intimate with Henry Seymour Conway, George Augustus Selwyn and the two Montagus, and in 1735 matriculated at King's College, Cambridge. Two years (1739-41) were spent in Gray's company in the recognized grand tour of France and Italy. They stopped a few weeks in Paris, and lingered for three months at Rheims, on the pretence of learning the French language. Henry Seymour Conway, whose mother was a sister of Lady Walpole, shared their society in the French city. The other two members of this little circle next proceeded to Florence, where Walpole rested for more than a year in the villa of Horace Mann, the British envoy-extraordinary for forty-six years to the court of Tuscany. Mann's family had long been on terms of the closest intimacy with his guests, and they continued correspondents until 1786. As they never met again, their friendship, unlike most of Walpole's attachments, remained unbroken. After a short visit to Rome (March to June 1740), and after a further sojourn at Florence, Walpole and Gray parted in resentment at Reggio. Walpole in later years took the blame of this quarrel on himself, and it is generally believed that it arose from his laying too much stress on his superiority in position. In 1744 the two friends were nominally reconciled, but the breach was not cemented.
Walpole came back to England on the 12th of September 1741. He had been returned to parliament on the 14th of May 1741 for the Cornish borough of Callington, over which his elder brother, through his marriage with the heiress of the Rolles, exercised supreme influence. He represented three constituencies in succession, Callington 1741-54, the family borough of Castle Rising from 1754 to 1757, and the more important constituency of King's Lynn, for which his father had long sat in parliament, from the latter date until 1768. In that year he retired, probably because his success in political life had not equalled his expectations, but he continued until the end of his days to follow and to chronicle the acts and the speeches of both houses of parliament. Through his father's influence he had obtained three lucrative sinecures in the exchequer, and for many years (1745-84) he enjoyed a share, estimated at about £1500 a year, of a second family perquisite, the collectorship of customs. These resources, with a house in Arlington Street, which was left to him by his father, enabled him, a bachelor all his days, to gratify his tastes. He acquired in 1747 the lease and in the next year purchased the reversion of the charmingly situated villa of Strawberry Hill, near Twickenham, on the banks of the Thames. Six years later he began a series of alterations in the Gothic style, not completed for nearly a quarter of a century later, under which the original cottage became transformed into a building without parallel in Europe. On the 25th of June 1757 he established a printing press there, which he called "Officina Arbuteana". and many of the first editions of his own works were struck off within its walls. Through Walpole's influence Dodsley published in 1753 the clever, if eccentric, designs of Richard Bentley (the youngest child of Richard Bentley the great scholar, and for some time a protégé of Horace Walpole) for the poems of Gray. The first work printed at Strawberry Hill was two odes of Gray (8th of August 1757), and among the reprints were the Life of Lord Herbert of Cherbury, Memoirs of Grammont, Hentzner's Journey into England, and Lord Whitworth's Account of Russia. The rooms of this whimsical edifice were crowded with curiosities of every description, and the house and its contents were shown, by tickets to admit four persons, between 12 and 3 from May to October, but only one party was admitted on each day, and the owner, although enamored of notoriety, simulated discontent at this limited intrusion into his privacy. Walpole paid several visits to Paris, where he made the acquaintance of Madame du Deffand in 1765, and they corresponded until her death in 1780. His nephew, the reckless 3rd earl, died on the 5th of December 1791, and Horace succeeded to the peerage, but he never took his place in the House of Lords, and sometimes signed his name as "the uncle of the late earl of Orford." All his life long he was a victim of the gout, but he lived to extreme old age, and died unmarried, in Berkeley Square, London, to which he had removed in October 1779, on the 2nd of March 1797. He was buried privately at Houghton. The family estate descended to the earl of Cholmondeley, whose ancestor had married Horace Walpole's younger sister. All Walpole's printed books and manuscripts were left to Robert Berry (d. 19th of May 1817) and his two daughters, Mary (1763-1852) and Agnes (1764-1852), and Mary Berry edited the five volumes of Walpole's works which were published in 1798. Their friendship had been very dear to the declining days of Walpole, who, it has even been said, wished to marry Mary Berry. By his will each of the ladies obtained a pecuniary legacy of £4000, and for their lives the house and garden, formerly the abode of his friend Kitty Clive, which adjoined Strawberry Hill. Strawberry Hill went to Mrs. Anne Darner, daughter of his lifelong friend General Conway, for her life, but it was entailed on his niece the countess dowager of Waldegrave and her heirs. The collections of Strawberry Hill, which he had spent nearly fifty years in amassing, were dispersed under the hammer of George Robins in 1842. They are described in a catalogue of that date, and in a series of articles in the Gentleman's Magazine for that year.
The pen was ever in Horace Walpole's hands, and his entire compositions would fill many volumes. His two works of imagination are a romance, Castle of Otranto (1764) and a tragedy, Mysterious Mother (1768). The Castle of Otranto, purporting to be a story translated by William Marshal, gent., from the original Italian of Onuphrio Muralto, canon of the church of St. Nicholas at Otranto, was often reprinted in England, and was translated into both French and Italian. By Sir Walter Scott it was lauded to the skies for its power in raising the passions of fear and pity, but from William Hazlitt it met with intense condemnation; its real importance, however, lies in the fact that it started the romantic revival. The Mysterious Mother, a tragedy too horrible for representation on any stage, was never intended for performance in public, and only fifty copies of it were printed at Strawberry Hill. By Byron, who, like Horace Walpole, affected extreme liberalism, and like him never forgot that he was born within the purple, this tragedy was pronounced "of the highest order." Several of Walpole's antiquarian works merit high praise. The volume of Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard the Third (1760), one of the earliest attempts to rehabilitate a character previously stamped with infamy, showed acuteness and research. These doubts provoked several answers, which are criticized in a supplement edited by Dr. E. C. Hawtrey for the Philobiblon Society (1854). A work of more lasting reputation, which has retained its vitality for more than a century, is entitled Anecdotes of Painting in England, with some Account of the Principal Artists; collected by George Vertue, and now digested and published from his original manuscripts by Horace Walpole (4 vols., 1762-71). Its value to art students and to admirers of biographical literature demanded its frequent reproduction, and it was re-edited with additions by the Rev. James Dallaway in five volumes (1826-28), and then again was revised and edited by R. N. Wornum in 1849. A cognate volume, also based on the materials of Vertue, is entitled the Catalogue of Engravers Born and Resident in England (1763), which, like its more famous predecessor, often passed through the press. On the Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors of England (1758) Walpole spent many hours of toilsome research. The best edition is that which appeared in five volumes, in 1806, under the competent editorship of Thomas Park, who carefully verified and diligently augmented the labors of the original author. As a senator himself, or as a private person following at a distance the combats of St. Stephen's, Walpole recorded in a diary the chief incidents in English politics. For twenty-seven years he studied, a silent spectator for the most part, the characters of the chief personages who trod the stage of politics, and when he quitted the scene he retained the acquaintance of many of the chief actors. If he was sometimes prejudiced, he rarely distorted the acts of those whom he disliked; and his prejudices, which lie on the surface, were mainly against those whom he considered traitors to his father. These diaries extend from 1750 to 1783, and cover a period of momentous importance in the annals of the national history. The Memoirs of the Last Ten Years of the Reign of George II was edited by Lord Holland (1846); its successor, Memoirs of the Reign of King George III, was published under the editorial care of Sir Denis Le Marchant (4 vols., 1845), and re-edited in 1894 by G. F. Russell Barker; the last volumes of the series, Journal of the Reign of George III from 1771 to 1783, were edited and illustrated by John Doran (2 vols., 1859), and were edited with an introduction by A. F. Steuart (London, 1909). To these works should be added the Reminiscences (2 vols., 1819), which Walpole wrote in 1788 for the gratification of the Misses Berry. These labors would in themselves have rendered the name of Horace Walpole famous for all time, but his delightful Letters are the crowning glory of his life. His correspondents were numerous and widespread, but the chief of them were William Cole (1714-1782), the clerical antiquary of Milton; Robert Jephson, the dramatist; William Mason, the poet; Lord Hertford during his embassy in Paris; the countess of Ossory; Lord Harcourt; George Montagu, his friend at Eton; Henry Seymour Conway (1721-1795) and Sir Horace Mann. With most of these friends he quarrelled, but the friendship of the last two, in the former case through genuine liking, and in the latter through his fortunate absence from England, was never interrupted. The Letters were published at different dates, but the standard collection is that by Mrs. Paget Toynbee (1903-05), and to it should be added the volumes of the letters addressed to Walpole by his old friend Madame du Deffand (4 vols., 1810). Dr. Doran's publication, Mann and Manners at the Court of Florence (1876), is founded on the epistles sent in return to Walpole by the envoy-extraordinary. Other works relating to him are Horace Walpole and his World, by L. B. Seeley (1884); Horace Walpole, a memoir by Austin Dobson (1890-93); Horace Walpole and the Strawberry Hill Press, by M. A. Havens (1901). Walpole has been called "the best letter-writer in the English language"; and few indeed are the names which can compare with his. In these compositions his very foibles are penned for our amusement, and his love of trifles -- for, in the words of another Horace, he was ever "nescio quid meditans nugarum et totus in illis" -- ministers to our instruction. To these friends he communicated every fashionable scandal, every social event, and the details of every political struggle in English life. The politicians and the courtiers of his day were more akin to his character than were the chief authors of his age, and the weakness of his intellectual perceptions stands out most prominently in his estimates of such writers as Samuel Johnson and Oliver Goldsmith, Edward Gibbon and David Hume. On many occasions he displayed great liberality of disposition, and he bitterly deplored for the rest of his days his neglect of the unhappy Thomas Chatterton. Chatterton wrote to Walpole in 1769, sending some prose and verse fragments and offering to place information on English art in Walpole's hands. Encouraged by a kindly reply, Chatterton appealed for help. Walpole made inquiries and came to the conclusion that he was an imposter. He finally returned the manuscripts in his possession, and took no notice of subsequent letters from Chatterton.
Father: Robert Walpole
Mother: Catherine Shorter
High School: Eton College
University: King's College, Cambridge University
UK Member of Parliament 1757-68 for King's Lynn
UK Member of Parliament 1754-57 for Castle Rising
UK Member of Parliament 1741-54 for Callington
Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn 1731
Risk Factors: Gout
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