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WALrOLFS LETTERS TO Sill HORACE MANN.'
[edinburgh Review, 1833.]
We cannot transcribe this title-page without strong feelings of regret. The editing of these volumes was the last of the useful and modest services rendered to literature by a nobleman of amiable manners, of untarnished public and private character, and of cultivated mind. On this, as on other occasions, Lord Dover performed his part diligently, judiciously, and without the slightest istentation. He had two merits, both of which are rarely found together in a commentator. He was content to be merely a commentator—to keep in the background, and to leave the foreground to the author whom he had undertaken to illustrate. Yet, though willing to be an attendant, he was by no means a slave; nor did he consider it as part of his editorial duty to see no faults in the writer to whom he faithfully and assiduously rendered the humblest literary offices.
The faults of Horace Walpole's head and heart are indeed sufficiently glaring. His writings.it is true, rank as high among the delicacies of intellectual epicures as the Strasburgh pies among the dishes described in the jjlmanaik rf« Gourmands. But, as the patc-defow-grat owes its excellence to the diseases of the wretched animal which furnishes it, and would be good for nothing if it were not made of livers preternaturally swollen, so none but an unhealthy and disorganized mind could have produced such literary luxuries as the works of Walpole.
He was, unless we have formed a very erroneous judgment of his character, the most eccentric, the most artificial, the most fastidious, the most capricious of men. His mind was a bundle of inconsistent whims and affectations. His features were covered by mask within mask. When the outer disguise of obvious affectation was removed, you were still as far as ever from seeing the real man. He played innumerable parts, and overacted them all. When he talked misanthropy, he out-TimonedTimon. When he talked philanthropy, he left Howard at an immeasurable distance. He scoffed at courts, and kept a chronicle of their most trifling scandal; at society, and was blown about by its slightest veerings of opinion; at literary fame, and left fair copies of his private letters, with copious notes, to be published after his decease; at rank, and never for a moment forgot that he was an honourable; at the practice of entail, and tasked the ingenuity of conveyancers to tie up his villa in the strictest settlement.
• Lttttrt of florae* WalpoU, Karl of Orfnri, to Sir Koran Main, British F.nroy at too Court of Tusrany. Now ftret published from the Orientals in the pn**e*Blon of the EaELnrWiLDGBAVE. Edited by Lord Dover. 3 vole. Sen. London. 1833.
The conformation of his mind was such, that whatever was little, seemed to him great, and whatever was great, seemed to him little. Serious business was a trifle to him, and trifles were his serious business. To chat with bluestockings; to write little copies of complimentary verses on little occasions; to superintend a private press; to preserve from natural decay the perishable topics of Ranelagh and White's; to record divorces and bets, Miss Chudleigh's absurdities and George Selwyn's good sayings; to decorate a grotesque house with piecrust battlements; to procure rare engravings and antique chimney-boards; to match odd gauntlets; to lay out a maze of walks within five acres of ground—these were the grave employments of his long life. From these he turned to politics as to an amusement. After the labours of the print-shop and the auctionroom, he unbent his mind in the House of Commons. And, having indulged in the recreation of making laws and voting millions he returned to more important pursuits—to researches after Queen Mary's comb, Wolsey's red hat, the pipe which Van Tromp smoked during his last seafight, and the spur which King William struck'into the flank of Sorrel.
In every thing in which he busied himself— in the fine arts, in literatu/e, in public affairs —he was drawn by some strange attraction from the great to the little, and from the useful to the odd. The politics in which he took the keenest interest were politics scarcely deserving of the nafhe. The growlings of George the Second, the flirtations of Princess Emily with the Duke of Grafton, the amours of Prince Frederic with Lady Middlesex, the squabbles between Gold Stick and the Master of the Buckhounds, the disagreements between the tutors of Prince George—these matters engaged almost all the attention which Walpole could spare from matters more important still;—from bidding for Zinckes and Petitots, from cheapening fragments of tapestry, and handles of old lances, from joining bits of painted glass, and from setting up memorials of departed cats and dogs. While he was fetching and carrying the gossip of Kensington Palace and Carlton House, he fancied that he was engaged in politics, and when he recorded that gossip, he fancied that he was writing history.
He was, as he has himself told us, fond of faction as an amusement. He loved mischiefbut he loved quiet; and he was constantly on the watch for opportunities of gratifying both his tastes at once. He sometimes contrived, without showing himself, to disturb the course of ministerial negotiations, and to spread confusion through the political circles. He doe» not himself pretend that, on these occastrns. he was actuated by public spirit; nor does he appear to have had any private advantage in view. He thought it a good practical joke to set public men together by the ears; and he enjoyed their perplexities, their accusations, and their recriminations, as a malicious boy enjoys the embarrassment of a misdirected traveller.
About politics, in the high sense of the word, he knew nothing and cared nothing. He called himself a Whig. His father's son could scarcely assume any other name. Jt pleased him also to affect a foolish aversion to kings as kings, and a foolish love and admiration of rebels as rebels; and, perhaps, while kings were not in danger, and while rebels were not in being, he really believed that he held the doctrines which he professed. To go no farther than the letters now before us, he is perpetually boasting to his friend Mann of his aversion to royally and to royal persons. He calls the crime of Damien "that least bad of murders, the murder of a king." He hung up in his villa a fac-simile of the death-warrant of Charles, with the inscription,"3f(i;'or Ckurla." Yel the most superficial knowledge of history might have taught him that the Restoration, and the crimes and follies of the twenty-eight years which followed the Restoration, were the effects of this "Greater Charter." Nor was there much in the means by which the instrument was obtained which could gratify a judicious lover of liberty. A man must hate kings very bitterly, before he can think it desirable that the representatives of the people should be turned out of doors by dragoons, in order to get at a king's head. Walpole's Whigism, however, was of a very harmless kind. He kept it, as he kept the old spears and helmets at 8trawberry Hill, merely for show. He would just as soon have thought of taking down the arms of the ancient Templars .and Hospitallers from the walls of his hall, and setting off on a crusade to the Holy Land, as of acting in the spirit of those daring warriors and statesmen, great even in their errors, whose names and seals were affixed to the warrant which he prized so highly. He liked revolution and regicide only when they were a hundred years old. His republicanism, like the courage of a bully or the love of a fribble, was strong and ardent when there was no occasion for it, and subsided when he had in opportunity of bringing it to the proof. As soon as the revolutionary spirit really began to stir in Europe, as soon as the hatred of kings became tomelhing more than a sonorous phrase, he was frightened into a fanatical royalist, and became one of the most extravagant alarmists of those wretched times. In truth, his talk about liberty, whether he knew it or not, was from the beginning a mere cant, the remains of a phraseology which had meant something in the mouths of those from whom he had learned it, but which, in his mouth, meant about as much as the oath by which the Knights of the Bath bind themselves to redress ihe wrongs of all injured ladies. He had been ted in his boyhood with Whig speculations on fovernment. He must often have s^en, at
Houghton or in Downing street, men who had been Whi^s when it was as dangerous to be a Whig as to be a highwayman; men who bad voted for the exclusion bill, who had been concealed in garrets and cellars after the battle of Sedgmoor, and who had set their names to the declaration that they would live and die with the Prince of Orange. He had acquired tie language of these men, and he repeated it by \ rote, though it was at variance with all his : tastes and feelings; just as some old Jacobite families persisted in praying for the Pretender, I and passing their glasses over the waler-de| canter when they drank the king's health, long after they had become zealous supporters of the government of George the Third. He was a Whig by the accident of hereditary connection; but he was essentially a courtier, and not the less a courtier because he pretended to sneer at the object which excited his admiration and envy. His real tastes perpetually show themselves through the thin disguise. While professing all the contempt of Bradshaw or Ludlow for crowned "heads, he took the trouble to write a book concerning Royal Authors. He pried with the utmost anxiety into the most minute particulars relating to the royal family. When he was a child, he was haunted with a longing to see George the First, and gave his mother no peace till she had found a way of gratifying his curiosity. The same feeling, covered with a thousand disguises, attended him to the grave. No observation that dropped from the lips of majesty seemed to him too trifling to be recorded. The French songs of Prince Frederic, compositions certainly-not deserving of preservation on account of their intrinsic merit, have been carefully preserved for us by this contemner of .royalty. In truth, every page of Walpole's works betrayed him. This Diogenes, who would be thought to prefer his tub to a palace, and who has nothing to ask of the masters of Windsor and Versailles but that they will stand out of his light, is a gentleman-usher at heart
He had, it is plain, an uneasy consciousness of the frivolity of his favourite pursuits; and this consciousness produced one of the most diverting of his ten thousand affectations. His busy idleness, his indifference to matters which the world generally regards as important, his passion for triflcs.'he thought fit to dignify with the name of philosophy. He spoke of himself as of a man whose equanimity was proof to ambitious hopes and fears; who had learned to rate power, wealth, and fame at their true value, and whom the conflict of parties, the rise and fall of statesmen, the ebbs and flows of public opinion, moved only to a smile of mingled compassion and disdain. It was owing to the peculiar elevation of his character, that he cared about a lath and plaster pinnacle more than about the Middlesex election, and about a miniature of Grammont more than about • the American Revolution. Pitt and Murray might talk themselves hoarse about trifles. But questions of government and wai were too insignificant to detain a mind which was occupied in recording the scandal of club
rooms and the whispers of the backstairs, and which was even capable of selecting ami disposing chairs of ebony and shields of rhinoceros-skin.
One of his innumerable whims was an extreme dislike to be considered as a man of letters. Not that he was indifferent to literary fa.ne. Far from it. Scarcely %ny writer has ever troubled himself so-much about the appearance which his works were to make before posterity. But he had set his heart on incompatible objects. He wished to be a celebrated author, and yet to be a mere idle gentleman— one of those epicurean gods of the earth who do nothing at all, and who pass their existence in the contemplation of their own perfections. He did not like to have any thing in common with the wretches who lodged in the little courts behind St. Martin's Church, and stole out on Sundays to dine with their bookseller. He avoided the society of authors. He spoke with lordly contempt of the most distinguished among them. He tried to find dut some way of writing books, as M. Jourdain's father sold cloth, without derogating from his character of gttUiUumime. "Lui, marchand! C'est pure medisance: il ne l'a jamais &t&. Tout ce qu'il faisait, c'est qu'il ctait fort obligeant, fort official; ct comme il se connaissait, fort bien en etoffes, il en allait choisir de tous les cotes, Jes faisait apporter chez lui, et en donnait a »C8 amis pour de l'argent." There are several amusing instances of his feeling on this subject in the letters now before us. Mann had complimented him on the learning which appeared in the " Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors;" and it is curious to see how impatiently Walpole bore the imputation of having attended to any thing so unfashionable as the improvement of his mind. "I know nothing. How should I! I who have always lived in the big busy world; who lie a-bed all the morning, calling it morning as long as you please; who sup in company; who have played at faro half my life, and now at loo till two and three in the morning; who have always loved pleasure, haunted auctions... How I have laughed when some of the Magazines have called me the learned gentleman. Pray don't be like the Magazines." This folly might be pardoned in a boy. But a man of forty-threw, as Walpole then was, ought to be quite as much ashamed of playing at loo till three every morning, as of being so vulgar a thing as a learned gentleman.
The literary character has undoubtedly its full share of faults, and of very serious and offensive faults. If Walpole had avoided those faults, we could have pardoned the fastidiousness with which he declined all fellowship with men of learning. But from those faults Walpole was not one jot more free than the gtarreteers from whose contact he shrank. Of literary meannesses and literary vices, his life and his works contain as many instances as the life and the works of any member of Johnson's club. The fact is, that Walpole had the faults of Grub street, with a large addition from St. James's street, the vanity, the jealousy, the irritability of a man of letters, the
affected superciliousness and apathy of a man of fbn.
His judgment of literature, of contemporary literature especially, was altogether perverted by his aristocratical feelings. No writer surely was ever guilty of so much false and absurd criticism. He almost invariably speaks with contempt of those books which are now universally allowed to be the best that appeared in. his lime; and, on the other hand, he speaks of writers of rank and fashion as if they were entitled to the same precedence in literature, which would have been allowed to them in a drawing-room. In these letters, for example, he says, that he would rather have written the most absurd lines in Lee than Thomson's •' Seasons." The periodical paper called " The World," on the other hand, was by "our .first writers." Who, then, were the first writers of England in the year 1753 1 Walpole has told us in a note. Our readers will probably guess that Hume, Fielding, Smollett, Richardson, Johnson, Warburton, Collins, Akenside, Gray, Dyer, Young, Warton, Mason, or some of those distinguished men, were on the list. Not one of them. Our first writers, il seems, were Lord Chesterfield, Lord Bath, Mr, W. Whilehead. Sir Charles Williams, Mr. Soame Jenyns, Mr. Cambridge, Mr. Coventry. Of these seven gentlemen, Whitehead was the lowest in station, but was-the most accomplished tuft-hunter of his time. Coventry was of a noble family. The other five had among them two peerages, two seats in the House of Commons, three seats in the Privy Council, a baronetcy, a blue riband, a red riband, about a hundred thousand pounds a year, and not ten pages that are worth reading. The writings of Whitehead, Cambridge, Coventry, and Lord Bath arc forgotten. Soame Jenyns is remembered chiefly by John son's review of the foolish Essay on the Origin of Evil. Lord Chesterfield stands much lower in the estimation of posterity than he wr "d have done if his letters had never been p lished. The lampoons of Sir Charles Williams are now read only by the curious; and, though not without occasional flashes of wit, have always seemed to us, we must own, very poor performances.
Walpole judged of French literature after the same fashion. He understood and loved the French language. Indeed, he loved it too well. His style is more deeply tainted with Gallicisms than that of any other English writer with whom we are acquainted. His composition often reads, for a page together, like a rude translation from the French. We meet every minute with such sentences as these, "One knows what temperaments Annibal Caracci painted." "The impertinent personage!" "She is dead rich." "Lord Dalkeith is° dead of the small-pox in three days." "What was ridiculous, the man who seconded the motion happened to be shut out." "It w:ll now be seen whether he or they are .nost pa triot." ,
His love of the Fr°nch language was of a peculiar kind. He lovca it as having been foa century the vehicle of all the polite nothing* of Europe: as the s-ign by whU'h the fre*.«a tons of fashion recognised each other in every capital from Petersburg to Naples; as the fanguage of raillery, as the language of anecdote, as the language of memoirs, as the language of correspondence. Its higher uses he altogether disregarded. The literature of France has been to ours what Aaron was to Moses— the expositor of great truths, which would else have perished for want of a voice to utter them with distinctness. The relation which existed between Mr. Bentham and M. Dumont is an exact illustration of the intellectual relation in which the two countries stand to each other. The great discoveries in physics, in metaphysics, in political science, are ours. But no foreign nation except France has received them from us by direct communication. Isolated in our situation, isolated by our manners, we found truth, but we did not impart it. France has been the interpreter between England and mankind.
In the time of Walpole, this process of interpretation was in full activity. The great French writers were busy in proclaiming th rough Europe the names of Bacon, of Newton, and of Locke. The English principles of toleration, the English respect for personal liberty, the English doctrine that all power is a trust for the public good, were making rapid progress. There is scarcely any thing in history so interesting as that great stirring up of the mind of France, that shaking of the foundations of all established opinions, that uprooting of old truth and old error. It was plain that mighty principles were at work, whether for evil or for good. It was plain that a great change in the whole social system was at hand. Fanatics of one kind might anticipate a golden age, in which men should live under the simple dominion of reason, in perfect equality and perfect amity, without properly, or marriage, or king, or God. A fanatic of another kind might see nothing in the doctrines of the philosophers but anarchy and atheism, might cling more closely to every old abuse, and might regret the good old days when St. Dominic and Simon de Montfort put down the. growing heresies of Provence. A wise man would have seen with regret the excesses into which the reformers were running, but he would have done justice to their genius and to their philanthropy. He would have censured their errors; but he would have remembered that, as Milton has sa-1, error is but opinion in the making. While he condemned their hostility to religion, he would have acknowledged that it was the natural effect of a system under which religion had been constantly exhibited to them, in forms which common sense rejected, and at which humanity shuddered. While he condemned some of their political doctrines as incompatible with all law, all property, and all civilization, he would have acknowledged that the subjects of Louis the Fifteenth had every excuse which men could have for being eager to poll down, and for being ienorant of the far higher art of jetting up. While anticipating a fierce con""••'. a great and wide-wasting destruction, he «ooid yet have looked forward to the final
close with a good tope for France and for mankind.
Walpole had neither hopes nor fears. Though the most Frenchified English writer of the eighteenth century, he troubled himself, little about the portents which were daily to be discerned in the French literature of his lime. While the r»ost eminent Frenchmen were studying with enthusftislic delight English politics and English philosophy, he was studying as intently the gossip of the old court of France. The fashions and scandal of Versailles and Marli, fashions and scandal a hundred years old, occupied him inf.nitely more than a great moral revolution which was taking place in his sight. He took a prodigious interest in every noble sharper whose vast volume of wig and infinite length of riband had figured at the dressing or at the tucking up of Louis the Fourteenth, and of every profligate woman of quality who had carried her train of lovers backward and forward from king to Parliament, and from Parliament to king, during the wars of the Fronde. These were the people of whom he treasured up the smallest memorial, of whom he loved to hear the most trifling anecdote, and for whose likenesses he would have given any price. Of the great French writers of his own time, Montesquieu is the only one of whom he speaks with enthusiasm. And even of Montesquieu he speaks with less enthusiasm than of that abject thing, Crebillon the younger, a scribbler as licentious as Lou vet and as dull as Rapin. A man must be strangely constituted who can take interest in pedantic journals of the blockades laid by the Duke of A. to the hearts of the Marquise de B. and the Com tesse de C. This trash Walpole extols in Ian guage sufficiently high for the merits of " Don Quixote." He wished to possess a likeness of Crebillon, and Liotard, the first painter of miniatures then living, was employed to preserve the features of'the profligate twaddler. The admirer of the Sopha and of the Lrtlrct Mhtniennu had little respect to spare for the men who were then at the head of" French literature. He kept carefully out of their way. He tried to keep other people from paying them any attention. He could not deny that Voltaire and Rousseau were clever mcii; but he took every opportunity of depreciating them. Of D'Alembert he spoke with a contempt, which, when the intellectual powers of the two men are compared, seems exquisitely ridiculous. D'Alembert complained that he was accused of having written Walpole's squib against Rousseau. "I hope." says Walpole, "that nobody will attribute D'AlemberTs works to me." He was in little danger.
It is impossible to deny, however, that Walpole's works have real merit, and merit of a very rare, though not of a very high kind. Sir Joshua Reynolds used to say, that though nobody would for a moment compare Claud* to Raphael, there would be another Raphael before there was another Claude. And we own that we expect to see fresh Humes and fresh Burkes before we again fall in with that peculiar combination of moral and intellectual qualities to which the writings of Walpole owe their extraordinary popularity.
It is easy to describe him by negatives. He had not a creative imagination. He had not a pure taste. He was. not a great reasoner. There is indeed scarcely any writer, in whose works it would be possible to find so many contradictory judgments, so many sentences of extravagant nonsense. Nor was it only in his familiar correspondence that he wrote in this flighty and inconsistent manner; but in long and elaborate hooks, in books repeatedly transcribed and intended for the public eye. We will give an instance or two; for, without instances, readers not very familiar with his works will scarcely understand our meaning. In the "Anecdotes of Painting," he states, very truly, that the art declined after the commencement of the civil wars. He proceeds to inquire why this happened. The explanation, we should have thought, would have been easily found. The loss of the most munificent and judicious patron that the fine arts ever had in England—for such undoubtedly was Charles—the troubled state of the country, the distressed condition of many of the aristocracy, perhaps also the austeiity of the victorious party—these circumstances, we conceive, fully account fo.- the phenomenon. But this solution was not odd enough to satisfy Walpole. He discovers another cause for the decline of the art, the want of models. Nothing worth painting, it seems, was left to paint. "How pic-iresque," he exclaims, " was the figure of an Anabaptist!" As if puritanism had put out the sun and withered the trees; as if the civil wars had blotted out the expression of character and passion from the human lip and brow; a-s if many of the men whom Vandyke painted, bad not been living in the lime of the Commonwealth, with faces little the worse for wear; as if many of the beauties afterwards portrayed by Lely were not in their prime before the Restoration; as if the costume or the features of Cromwell and Milton were less picturesque than those of the round-faced peers, as like each other as eggs to eggs, who look out from the middle of the periwigs of Kneller. In the "Memoirs," again, Walpole sneers at the Prince of Wales, afterwards George the Third, for presenting a collection of books to one of the American colleges during the Seven Years' War, and says that, instead of books, His Royal Highness ought to have sent arms and ammunition; as if a war ought to suspend ail study and all education; or as if it were the business of the Prince of Wales to supply the colonies with military stores out of his own pocket. We have perhaps dwelt too long on these passages, but we have done so because thry are specimens of Walpole's manner. Everybody who reads his works with attention, will find that they swarm with loose and foolish observations like those which we have r.Ted; observations which might pass in conversation or in a ha^ty letter, but which are unpardonable in booKo deliberately written and repeatedly corrected.
He appears to have thought that he saw very far into men ■ but we are under the ne
cessity of altogether dissenting from his opinion. We do not conceive that he had any power of discerning the liner shades of character. He practised an art, however, which, though easy and even vulgar, obtains for those who practise it the reputation of discernment with ninety-nine people out of a hundred. He sneered at everybody, put on every action the worst construction which it would bear, "spell every man backward;" to borrow the Lady Hero's phrase,
"Turned every man the wrone »lilr out.
In this way any man may, with little sagacity and little trouble, be considered, by those whose good opinion is not worth having, as a great judge of character.
It is said that the hasty and rapacious Kneller rt"-d to send away the ladies who sate to him iter sketching their faces, and to paint the . ire and hands from his housemaid. It was much in the same way thaflrWalpole portrayed the minds of others. He copied from the life only those glaring and obvious peculiarities, which could not escape the most superficial observation. The rest of the canvass he filled up in a careless dashing way, with knave and fool, mixed in such proportions as pleased Heaven. What a difference between these daubs and the masterly portraits of Clarendon!
There are contradictions without end in the sketches of character which abound in Walpole's works. But if we were lo form our opinion of his eminent contemporaries from a general survey of what he has written concerning them, we should say thai Pitt was a strutting, ranting, mouthing actor; Charles Townshend, an impudent and voluble jackpudding; Murray, a demure, cold-blooded, cowardly hypocrite; Hardwicke, an insoleiit upstart, with the understanding of a pettifogger and the heart of a hangman; Temple, an impertinent poltroon; Egmout, a solemn coxcomb; Lyttleton, a poor creature, whose only wish was to go to heaven in a coronet; Onslow, a pompous proser; Washington, u braggart; Lord Camden, sullen; Lord Townshend, malevolent; Seeker, an atheist who had shammed Christian for a mitre; Whitefield, an impostor who swindled his converts out of their watches. The Walpoles fare little better than their neighbours. Old Horace is constantly represented as a coarse, brutal, niggardly buffoon, and his son as worthy of such a father. In short, if we are to trust this discerning judge of human nature, England in his time contained little sense and no virtue, except what was distributed between himself, Lord Waldgrave, and Marshal Conway.
Of such a writer il is scarcely necessary to say, that his works are de titute of every charm which is derived from elevation or from tenderness ol sentiment. When ho chose tc be humane and magnanimous—for he sometimes, by way of variety, tried this affectation —he overdid his part most ludicrously. Nonr of his n\any disguises sate so awkwardly upon him. For example, he tells us that he did im