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While his vast soul was hung on tenters,
To mend the world, and vex dissenters;
Twit'nam, where frolic Wharton* revell'd;
Where Montagu, f with lock dishevell'd,
(Conflict of dirt and warmth divine,)
Invok'd—and scandalised the Nine:
Where Pope in moral music spoke,
To th' anguish'd soul of Boliugbroke,
And whisper'd how true genius errs,
Preferring joys that pow'r confers;
Bliss never to great minds arising
From ruling worlds, but from despising:
Where FieldingJ met his hunter Muse,
And, as they quafFd the fiery juice,
Droll Nature stamp'd each lucky hit
With inimaginable wit:
Where Suffolk^ sought the peaceful scene,
Resigning Richmond to the queen,
And all the glory, all the teasing,
Of pleasing one|| not worth the pleasing;
Where Fannys, ever-blooming fair,
Ejaculates the graceful pray'r,
And, 'scap'd from sense, with nonsense smit,
For Whitfield's cant leaves Stanhope's** wit:
Amid this choir of sounding names,
Of statesmen, bards, and beauteous dames,
Shall the last trifler of the throng
Enroll his own such names among?
—Oh ! no, enough if I consign
To lasting types their notes divine;
Enough if Strawberry's humble hill
The title-page of fame shall fill."
In winding up his verses with this affected humility, Walpole, of course, meant nothing. He would have been grievously mortified, if he could have brought himself to believe that Strawberry Hill,
* The Duke of Wharton, f Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. J Henry Fielding. § Henrietta Hobart, Countess of Suffolk. || George II. If Lady Fanny Shirley.
** Philip Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield.
as well as its master, would not stand high up in the roll of fame. At any rate Strawberry Hill must now occupy a prominent position in any sketch of Twickenham Meadows.
The Great Strawberry Hill stands only a short way below its little namesake. Horace Walpole took such pains to inform posterity of the history of the house which his admiring contemporaries were fain to look up to with devout regard as a model of Gothic architecture, and which he had traversed the kingdom in order to complete satisfactorily, that it would be a pity not to give his own account:— "Where the Gothic castle now stands was originally a small tenement, built in 1698, and let as a lodginghouse : Cibber once took it, and wrote one of his plays here—' The Refusal; or, the Lady's Philosophy." After him, Talbot, Bishop of Durham, had it for eight years : then, Henry Bridges, Marquis of Carnarvon, son of James, Duke of Chandos, and since Duke himself. It was next hired by Mrs. Chenevix, the noted toy-woman, who, on the death of her husband, let it to Lord John Philip Sackville: he kept it about two years; and then Mr. Walpole took the remainder of Mrs. Chenevix's lease, in May, 1749, and the next year bought it by Act of Parliament, it being the property of three minors of the name of Mortimer... . The castle now existing was not entirely built from the ground, but formed at different times, by alterations of and additions to the old small house. The library and refectory or great parlour were entirely new-built in 1753 ; the gallery, round tower, great cloister, and cabinet in 1760 and 1761; the great north bed-chamber in 1770; and the Beauclerc tower, with the hexagon closet, in 1776" His description of the house would be too long to Vol. tt. a
quote: of the interior, it may suffice, as a sample, to give his note of " the refectory or great parlour :"— "It is 30 feet long, 20 wide, and 12 high ; hung with paper in imitation of stucco. The chimney-piece was designed by Mr. Bentley: upon it stands a fine Etruscan vase, between two bottles of black and gold porcelain." After he had finished the house or castle to his liking, he set about storing it with all sorts of " articles of taste and virtu," as the catalogues have it. Of the contents he drew up, and printed in a handsome quarto form to range with his other "Works," a catalogue, in which such things as " two old blue and white plates, artichoke pattern," or "an octagon square plate with a cock and hen," or "a blue and white caudle-cup "—are of perpetual recurrence. And this was the man who set himself up, and was pretty generally admitted, as an infallible critic upon all matters of art and the practical application of taste.
The "castle" itself is perhaps the most trumpery piece of gingerbread Gothic ever constructed. As a whole, it is monstrously ill-looking and absurd; while the details are not only incorrect and out of place, but wretchedly meagre and poverty stricken. By descent Strawberry Hill became the property of a late Earl of Waldegrave, who dismantled it, and converted the plates and japan-ware and nicknacks that so fitly decorated the rooms, into solid cash — not fearing the repose of the ghost of Otranto. It is to be hoped that the present Earl will soon remove the crazy castle itself;—if he respect the memory of his precedessor, or the taste of Horace, he certainly will. Nothing can be more melancholy than the air of the rickety structure in its present neglected state—the walls cracked, the plaster pealed off in patches, windows boarded up; every part, in fact, dropping into unsightliness — a wretched modern lath-and-plaster ruin.
Walpole made a great mistake in fancying himself an admirable Crichton. " He was in his way matchless, but it was, after all, a very small way. He essayed history, and has left a scandalous chronicle. He wrote on art, and was blind to all its higher qualities. His biographies show small knowledge of human nature. His judgments on his contemporaries are worthless, because, keen as he was, he suffered himself to be guided by the current • scandal: nowhere is there any clear acknowledgment of the wide separation of right and wrong,— or any recognition of the great principles of truth and justice:—himself frivolous, superficial, insincere, and devoid of everything like elevation of feeling he believed others to be as himself—without his cleverness. Virtue he looked on as a useful profession— at the notion of disinterestedness he curled his lip. Throughout his whole character the most marked feature was the entire want of a masculine tone of thought: but in that lay his real strength; that it was which gave him such unrivalled skill as a letterwriter. His letters, so light, facile, and sparkling in style, so piquant in matter—the very malice sharpening the piquancy—are, of their kind, unapproached in English. They are as easy, witty, and pleasant as those of Madame de Sevigne, or any other French lady of the olden time :—indeed, when fresh from the pretty Gallicisms of his style of thinking and writing, one is half tempted to fancy that some tricksy spirit iiad in wilfulness moulded him out of the clay which
"Dame Nature meant some French Madame should be."
But we must part in good temper with Horace Walpole. He is great in his way, if it be but a small way. He is indisputably the first of his class; and it is a class "necessary," as Swift expresses it, "to the commonwealth of learning. For all human actions seem to be divided, like Themistocles and his company: one man can fiddle, and another can make a small town a great city; and he who cannot do either one or the other, deserves to be kicked out of creation." There is no fear of that being Walpole's fate. Still it is sad to see a man of such remarkable ability—though but in fiddling—so entirely without any of the kindly or generous qualities on which to fix one's esteem. Generally speaking, however widely you differ from a writer's opinions, you learn to like him in proportion to the pleasure you take in his works. But Walpole, though one of the most enjoyable of authors, is at the same time the least likeable. There is in fact scarcely anything to like in him:
"To his memory
He has no heartiness of any kind. He was neither a good liker nor a good hater. But perhaps he could not help it. It seems, indeed, to borrow an odd phrase (but I suppose an orthodox one, as it was penned by a bishop when writing on a very serious theme*), " to be a thing extraneous to his nature, and not put into his paste when first fashioned by the forming hand of his Creator."
A little farther and we come to a spot still more renowned—for
"There Pope his moral music spoke." * i. e. Immortality. Warburton's ' Divine Legation of Moses.'