« 上一頁繼續 »
WITH MEMOIRS AND NOTES.
BY JOHN HENEAGE JESSE,
"MEMOIRS OF THE COURT OF ENGLAND DURING THE REIGN
HOUSES OF NASSAU AND HANOVER."
RICHARD BENTLEY, NEW BURLINGTON STREET,
AND HIS CONTEMPORARIES.
THE HON. HORACE WALPOLE.
HORACE, youngest son of the celebrated minister, Sir Robert Walpole, was born on the 5th of October, 1717. He was educated at Eton, (where he was the contemporary of Gray, the poet, and apparently of George Selwyn,) and afterwards at King's College, Cambridge. Neither his "incomparable letters," nor the history of his life, which comprises the mere tame annals of one who united a love of pleasure and of society, with a taste for literary pursuits, require any lengthened comments in the present work. Lord Byron observes, in his preface to "Marino Faliero," "It is the fashion to underrate Horace Walpole; firstly, because he was a nobleman; and, secondly, because he was a gentleman; but, to say nothing of the composition of his incomparable letters, and of the Castle of
Otranto,' he is the ultimus Romanorum; the author of the Mysterious Mother,' a tragedy of the highest order, and not a feeling love-play: he is the father of the first romance and of the last tragedy in our language, and surely worthy of a higher place than any living author, be he who he may." In 1791 Horace Walpole, then in his seventy-fifth year, succeeded his nephew as fourth Earl of Orford. "The accession of this latter dignity," says Lord Dover, seems rather to have annoyed him than otherwise. He never took his seat in the House of Lords, and his unwillingness to adopt his title was shown in his endeavours to avoid making use of it in his signature." He seldom, if ever, signed himself " Orford." There was in this, perhaps, a tinge of that affectation, with which his friend Gilly Williams occasionally amuses himself in the course of the present correspondence, and which, in fact, tinged almost every action of Walpole's life. A modern writer observes of him, that "affectation was the essence of the man,' ,"* and Bishop Warburton styles him an "insufferable coxcomb." Nothing, indeed, but that coxcombry, which, in fact, he carried to the verge of the grave, could have induced him to sign himself so significantly in his social letters, "The Uncle of the late Earl of Orford." These, however, are but trifling failings, and ought to detract but little from his many good qualities,
* Edinburgh Review, vol. lviii. p. 233.
and from the debt of gratitude which we owe to him as the most charming writer, apart from works of imagination, of any in our language. We learn from the graceful pen of Miss Berry, -the last known, but the best beloved of any of Lord Orford's friends,-that to the close of his long life, his "conversation was as singularly brilliant as it was original."* The same pen has elsewhere given us a melancholy and more particular sketch of Lord Orford's closing days,-the decline of a protracted career of brilliancy, literature, and wit. "The gout," says Miss Berry, "the attacks of which were every day becoming more frequent and longer, made those with whom Lord Orford had been living at Strawberry Hill very anxious that he should remove to Berkeley Square, to be nearer assistance, in case of any sudden seizure. As his correspondents, soon after his removal, were likewise established in London, no more letters passed between them. When not immediately suffering from pain, his mind was tranquil and cheerful. He was still capable of being amused, and of taking some part in conversation; but, during the last weeks of his life, when fever was superadded to his other ills, his mind became subject to the cruel hallucination of supposing himself neglected and abandoned by the only persons to whom his memory clung, and whom he always desired to see. In vain they recalled to
* Social Life in England and France.