Philip Wharton.

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not forbidden; to the Montagus, his dash and spirit; to Sir Hanbury
Williams, his turn for _jeux d'esprit_, as a part of the completion of a
fine gentleman's education; to George Selwyn, his appreciation of what
was then considered wit - but which we moderns are not worthy to
appreciate. Lord Hertford and Henry Conway, Walpole's cousins, were also
his schoolfellows; and for them he evinced throughout his long life a
warm regard. William Pitt, Lord Chatham - chiefly remembered at Eton for
having been flogged for being out of bounds - was a contemporary, though
not an intimate, of Horace Walpole's at Eton.

His regard for Gray did him infinite credit: yet never were two men more
dissimilar as they advanced in life. Gray had no aristocratic birth to
boast; and Horace dearly loved birth, refinement, position, all that
comprises the cherished term 'aristocracy.' Thomas Gray, more
illustrious for the little his fastidious judgment permitted him to give
to the then critical world, than many have been in their productions of
volumes, was born in Cornhill - his father being a worthy citizen. He was
just one year older than Walpole, but an age his senior in gravity,
precision, and in a stiff resolution to maintain his independence. He
made one fatal step, fatal to his friendship for Horace, when he
forfeited - by allowing Horace to take him and pay his expenses during a
long continental tour - his independence. Gray had many points which made
him vulnerable to Walpole's shafts of ridicule; and Horace had a host of
faults which excited the stern condemnation of Gray. The author of the
'Elegy' - which Johnson has pronounced to be the noblest ode in our
language - was one of the most learned men of his time, 'and was equally
acquainted with the elegant and profound paths of science, and that not
superficially, but thoroughly; knowing in every branch of history, both
natural and civil, as having read all the original historians of
England, France, and Italy; a great antiquarian, who made criticisms,
metaphysics, morals, and politics a principal part of his plan of
study - who was uncommonly fond of voyages and travels of all sorts - and
who had a fine taste in painting, prints, architecture, and gardening'
What a companion for a young man of taste and sympathy! but the friends
were far too clever long to agree. Gray was haughty, impatient,
intolerant of the peculiarities of others, according to the author of
'Walpoliana:' doubtless he detected the vanity, the actual selfishness,
the want of earnest feeling in Horace, which had all been kept down at
school, where boys are far more unsparing Mentors than their betters. In
vain did they travel _en prince_, and all at Walpole's expense; in vain
did they visit courts, and receive affability from princes: in vain did
he of Cornhill participate for a brief period in the attentions lavished
on the son of a British Prime Minister: they quarrelled - and we almost
reverence Gray for that result, more especially when we find the author
of 'Walpoliana' expressing his conviction that 'had it not been for this
idle indulgence of his hasty temper, Mr. Gray would immediately on his
return home have received, as usual, a pension or office from Sir Robert
Walpole.' We are inclined to feel contempt for the anonymous writer of
that amusing little book.

After a companionship of four years, Gray, nevertheless, returned to
London. He had been educated with the expectation of being a barrister;
but finding that funds were wanting to pursue a legal education, he gave
up a set of chambers in the Temple, which he had occupied previous to
his travels, and retired to Cambridge.

Henceforth what a singular contrast did the lives of these once fond
friends present! In the small, quaint rooms of Peter-House,[3] Gray
consumed a dreary celibacy, consoled by the Muse alone, who - if other
damsels found no charms in his somewhat piggish, wooden countenance, or
in his manners, replete, it is said, with an unpleasant consciousness of
superiority - never deserted him. His college existence, varied only by
his being appointed Professor of Modern History, was, for a brief space,
exchanged for an existence almost as studious in London. Between the
years 1759 and 1762, he took lodgings, we find, in Southampton Row - a
pleasant locality then, opening to the fields - in order to be near the
British Museum, at that time just opened to the public. Here his intense
studies were, it may be presumed, relieved by the lighter task of
perusing the Harleian Manuscripts; and here he formed the acquaintance
of Mason, a dull, affected poet, whose celebrity is greater as the
friend and biographer of Gray, than even as the author of those verses
on the death of Lady Coventry, in which there are, nevertheless, some
beautiful lines. Gray died in college - a doom that, next to ending one's
days in a jail or a convent, seems the dreariest. He died of the gout: a
suitable, and, in that region and in those three-bottle days, almost an
inevitable disease; but there is no record of his having been
intemperate.

[3: Gray migrated to Pembroke in 1756.]

Whilst Gray was poring over dusty manuscripts, Horace was beginning that
career of prosperity which was commenced by the keenest enjoyment of
existence. He has left us, in his Letters, some brilliant passages,
indicative of the delights of his boyhood and youth. Like him, we linger
over a period still fresh, still hopeful, still generous in impulse -
still strong in faith in the world's worth - before we hasten on to
portray the man of the world, heartless, not wholly, perhaps, but wont
to check all feeling till it was well-nigh quenched; little minded;
bitter, if not spiteful; with many acquaintances and scarce one
friend - the Horace Walpole of Berkeley Square and Strawberry Hill.

'Youthful passages of life are,' he says, 'the chippings of Pitt's
diamond, set into little heart-rings with mottoes; the stone itself more
worth, the filings more gentle and agreeable. Alexander, at the head of
the world, never tasted the true pleasure that boys of his age have
enjoyed at the head of a school. Little intrigues, little schemes and
policies engage their thoughts; and at the same time that they are
laying the foundation for their middle age of life, the mimic republic
they live in, furnishes materials of conversation for their latter age;
and old men cannot be said to be children a second time with greater
truth from any one cause, than their living over again their childhood
in imagination.'

Again: 'Dear George, were not the playing-fields at Eton food for all
manner of flights? No old maid's gown, though it had been tormented into
all the fashions from King James to King George, ever underwent so many
transformations as these poor plains have in my idea. At first I was
contented with tending a visionary flock, and sighing some pastoral name
to the echo of the cascade under the bridge ... As I got further into
Virgil and Clelia, I found myself transported from Arcadia to the garden
of Italy; and saw Windsor Castle in no other view than the _Capitoli
immobile saxum_.'

Horace Walpole's humble friend Assheton was another of those Etonians
who were plodding on to independence, whilst he, set forward by fortune
and interest, was accomplishing reputation. Assheton was the son of a
worthy man, who presided over the Grammar School at Lancaster, upon a
stipend of £32 a year. Assheton's mother had brought to her husband a
small estate. This was sold to educate the 'boys:' they were both clever
and deserving. One became the fellow of Trinity College; the other, the
friend of Horace, rose into notice as the tutor of the young Earl of
Plymouth; then became a D.D., and a fashionable preacher in London; was
elected preacher at Lincoln's Inn; attacked the Methodists; and died, at
fifty-three, at variance with Horace - this Assheton, whom once he had
loved so much.

Horace, on the other hand, after having seen during his travels all that
was most exclusive, attractive, and lofty, both in art and nature, came
home without bringing, he declares, 'one word of French or Italian for
common use.' He professed, indeed, to prefer England to all other
countries. A country tour in England delighted him: the populousness,
the ease in the people also, charmed him. 'Canterbury was a paradise to
Modena, Reggio, or Parma.' He had, before he returned, perceived that
nowhere except in England was there the distinction of 'middling
people;' he now found that nowhere but in England were middling houses.
'How snug they are!' exclaims this scion of the exclusives. Then he runs
on into an anecdote about Pope and Frederick, Prince of Wales. 'Mr.
Pope, said the prince, 'you don't love princes.' 'Sir, I beg your
pardon.' 'Well, you don't love kings, then.' 'Sir, I own I like the lion
better before his claws are grown.' The 'Horace Walpole' began now to
creep out: never was he really at home except in a court atmosphere.
Still he assumed, even at twenty-four, to be the boy.

'You won't find me,' he writes to Harry Conway, 'much altered, I
believe; at least, outwardly. I am not grown a bit shorter or fatter,
but am just the same long, lean creature as usual. Then I talk no French
but to my footman; nor Italian, but to myself. What inward alterations
may have happened to me you will discover best; for you know 'tis said,
one never knows that one's self. I will answer, that that part of it
that belongs to you has not suffered the least change - I took care of
that. For _virtu_, I have a little to entertain you - it is my sole
pleasure. I am neither young enough nor old enough to be in love.'

Nevertheless, it peeps out soon after that the 'Pomfrets' are coming
back. Horace had known them in Italy. The Earl and Countess and their
daughters were just then the very pink of fashion; and even the leaders
of all that was exclusive in the court. Half in ridicule, half in
earnest, are the remarks which, throughout all the career of Horace,
incessantly occur. 'I am neither young enough nor old enough to be in
love,' he says; yet that he was in love with one of the lovely Fermors
is traditionary still in the family - and that tradition pointed at Lady
Juliana, the youngest, afterwards married to Mr. Penn. The Earl of
Pomfret had been master of the horse to Queen Caroline: Lady Pomfret,
lady of the bed-chamber. 'My Earl,' as the-countess styled him, was
apparently a supine subject to her ladyship's strong will and
wrong-headed ability - which she, perhaps, inherited from her
grandfather, Judge Jeffreys; she being the daughter and heiress of that
rash young Lord Jeffreys, who, in a spirit of braggadocia, stopped the
funeral of Dryden on its way to Westminster, promising a more splendid
procession than the poor, humble cortege - a boast which he never
fulfilled. Lady Sophia Fermor, the eldest daughter, who afterwards
became the wife of Lord Carteret, resembled, in beauty, the famed
Mistress Arabella Fermor, the heroine of the 'Rape of the Lock.' Horace
Walpole admired Lady Sophia - whom he christened Juno - intensely.
Scarcely a letter drips from his pen - as a modern novelist used to
express it[4] - without some touch of the Pomfrets. Thus to Sir Horace
Mann, then a diplomatist at Florence: -

[4: The accomplished novelist, Mrs. Gore, famous for her facility, used
to say that a three-volume novel just 'dripped from her pen.']

'Lady Pomfret I saw last night. Lady Sophia has been ill with a cold;
her head is to be dressed French, and her body English, for which I am
sorry, her figure is so fine in a robe. She is full as sorry as I am.'

Again, at a ball at Sir Thomas Robinson's, where four-and-twenty couples
danced country-dances, in two sets, twelve and twelve, 'there was Lady
Sophia, handsomer than ever, but a little out of humour at the scarcity
of minuets; however, as usual, dancing more than anybody, and, as usual
too, she took out what men she liked, or thought the best
dancers.'...'We danced; for I country-danced till four, then had tea and
coffee, and came home.' Poor Horace! Lady Sophia was not for a younger
son, however gay, talented, or rich he might be.

His pique and resentment towards her mother, who had higher views for
her beautiful daughter, begin at this period to show themselves, and
never died away.

Lady Townshend was the wit who used to gratify Horace with tales of her
whom he hated - Henrietta-Louisa, Countess of Pomfret.

'Lady Townshend told me an admirable history: it is of _our friend_ Lady
Pomfret. Somebody that belonged to the Prince of Wales said, they were
going to _court_; it was objected that they ought to say to Carlton
House; that the only _court_ is where the king resides. Lady P., with
her paltry air of significant learning and absurdity, said, "Oh, Lord!
Is there no _court_ in England but the king's? Sure, there are many
more! There is the _Court_ of Chancery, the _Court_ of Exchequer, the
_Court_ of King's Bench, &c." Don't you love her? Lord Lincoln does her
daughter - Lady Sophia Fermor. He is come over, and met me and her the
other night; he turned pale, spoke to her several times in the evening,
but not long, and sighed to me at going away. He came over all alone;
and not only his Uncle Duke (the Duke of Newcastle) but even Majesty is
fallen in love with him. He talked to the king at his levee, without
being spoken to. That was always thought high treason; but I don't know
how the gruff gentleman liked it. And then he had been told that Lord
Lincoln designed to have made the campaign, if we had gone to war; in
short, he says Lord Lincoln is the handsomest man in England.'

Horace was not, therefore, the only victim to a mother's ambition: there
is something touching in the interest he from time to time evinces in
poor Lord Lincoln's hopeless love. On another occasion, a second ball of
Sir Thomas Robinson's, Lord Lincoln, out of prudence, dances with Lady
Caroline Fitzroy, Mr. Conway taking Lady Sophia Fermor. 'The two couple
were just admirably mismatched, as everybody soon perceived, by the
attentions of each man to the woman he did not dance with, and the
emulation of either lady; it was an admirable scene.'

All, however, was not country dancing: the young man, 'too old and too
young to be in love,' was to make his way as a wit. He did so, in the
approved way in that day of irreligion, in a political squib. On July
14th, 1742, he writes in his Notes, 'I wrote the "_Lessons for the
Day_;" the "Lessons for the day" being the first and second chapters of
the "Book of Preferment,"' Horace was proud of this _brochure_, for he
says it got about surreptitiously, and was 'the original of many things
of that sort.' Various _jeux d'esprit_ of a similar sort followed. A
'Sermon on Painting,' which was preached before Sir Robert Walpole, in
the gallery at Houghton, by his chaplain; 'Patapan, or the Little White
Dog,' imitated from La Fontaine. No. 38 of the 'Old England Journal,'
intended to ridicule Lord Bath; and then, in a magazine, was printed his
'Scheme for a Tax on Message Cards and Notes.' Next the 'Beauties,'
which was also handed about, and got into print. So that without the
vulgarity of publishing, the reputation of the dandy writer was soon
noised about. His religious tenets may or may not have been sound; but
at all events the tone of his mind assumed at this time a very different
character to that reverent strain in which, when a youth at college, he
had apostrophized those who bowed their heads beneath the vaulted roof
of King's College, in his eulogium in the character of Henry VI.

'Ascend the temple, join the vocal choir,
Let harmony your raptured souls inspire.
Hark how the tuneful, solemn organs blow,
Awfully strong, elaborately slow;
Now to you empyrean seats above
Raise meditation on the wings of love.
Now falling, sinking, dying to the moan
Once warbled sad by Jesse's contrite son;
Breathe in each note a conscience through the sense,
And call forth tears from soft-eyed Penitence.'

In the midst of all his gaieties, his successes, and perhaps his hopes,
a cloud hovered over the destinies of his father. The opposition, Horace
saw, in 1741, wished to ruin his father 'by ruining his constitution.'
They wished to continue their debates on Saturdays, Sir Robert's only
day of rest, when he used to rush to Richmond New Park, there to amuse
himself with a favourite pack of beagles. Notwithstanding the minister's
indifference to this his youngest son, Horace felt bitterly what he
considered a persecution against one of the most corrupt of modern
statesmen.

'Trust me, if we fall, all the grandeur, all the envied grandeur of our
house, will not cost me a sigh: it has given me no pleasure while we
have it, and will give me no pain when I part with it. My liberty, my
ease, and choice of my own friends and company, will sufficiently
counterbalance the crowds of Downing Street. I am so sick of it all,
that if we are victorious or not, I propose leaving England in the
spring.

The struggle was not destined to last long. Sir Robert was forced to
give up the contest and be shelved with a peerage. In 1742, he was
created Earl of Orford, and resigned. The wonder is that, with a mortal
internal disease to contend with, he should have faced his foes so long.
Verses ascribed to Lord Hervey ended, as did all the squibs of the day,
with a fling at that 'rogue Walpole.'

'For though you have made that rogue Walpole retire,
You are out of the frying-pan into the fire:
But since to the Protestant line I'm a friend,
I tremble to think how these changes may end.'

Horace, notwithstanding an affected indifference, felt his father's
downfall poignantly. He went, indeed, to court, in spite of a cold,
taken in an unaired house; for the prime minister now quitted Downing
Street for Arlington Street. The court was crowded, he found, with old
ladies, the wives of patriots who had not been there for 'these twenty
years,' and who appeared in the accoutrements that were in vogue in
Queen Anne's time. 'Then', he writes, 'the joy and awkward jollity of
them is inexpressible! They titter, and, wherever you meet them, are
always looking at their watches an hour before the time. I met several
on the birthday (for I did not arrive time enough to make clothes), and
they were dressed in all the colours of the rainbow. They seem to have
said to themselves, twenty years ago, "Well, if ever I do go to court
again, I will have a pink and silver, or a blue and silver;" and they
keep their resolutions.'

Another characteristic anecdote betrays his ill-suppressed vexation: -

'I laughed at myself prodigiously the other day for a piece of absence.
I was writing, on the king's birthday, and being disturbed with the mob
in the street, I rang for the porter and with an air of grandeur, as if
I was still at Downing Street, cried, "Pray send away those marrow-bones
and cleavers."

The poor fellow, with the most mortified air in the world, replied,
"Sir, they are not at _our_ door, but over the way, at my Lord
Carteret's." - "Oh!" said I, "then let them alone; may be, he does not
dislike the noise!" I pity the poor porter, who sees all his old
customers going over the way too.'

The retirement of Sir Robert from office had an important effect on the
tastes and future life of his son Horace. The minister had been
occupying his later years in pulling down his old ancestral house at
Houghton, and in building an enormous mansion, which has since his time
been, in its turn, partially demolished. When Harley, Earl of Orford,
was known to be erecting a great house for himself, Sir Robert had
remarked that a minister who did so committed a great imprudence. When
Houghton was begun, Sir Hynde Aston reminded Sir Robert of this speech.
'You ought to have recalled it to me before,' was the reply; 'for before
I began building, it might have been of use to me.'

This famous memorial of Walpolean greatness, this splendid folly,
constructed, it is generally supposed, on public money, was inhabited by
Sir Robert only ten days in summer, and twenty days in winter; in the
autumn, during the shooting season, two months. It became almost an
eyesore to the quiet gentry, who viewed the palace with a feeling of
their own inferiority. People as good as the Walpoles lived in their
gable-ended, moderate-sized mansions; and who was Sir Robert, to set
them at so immense a distance?

To the vulgar comprehension of the Premier, Houghton, gigantic in its
proportions, had its purposes. He there assembled his supporters; there,
for a short time, he entertained his constituents and coadjutors with a
magnificent, jovial hospitality, of which he, with his gay spirits, his
humourous, indelicate jokes, and his unbounded good-nature, was the very
soul. Free conversation, hard-drinking, were the features of every day's
feast. Pope thus describes him: -

'Seen him, I have, but in his happier hour,
Of social pleasure, ill exchanged for power;
Seen him uncumbered with the venal tribe,
Smile without art, and win without a bribe.'

Amid the coarse taste one gentle refinement existed: this was the love
of gardening, both in its smaller compass and it its nobler sense of
landscape gardening. 'This place,' Sir Robert, in 1743, wrote to General
Churchill, from Houghton, 'affords no news, no subject of entertainment
or amusement; for fine men of wit and pleasure about town understand
neither the language and taste, nor the pleasure of the inanimate world.
My flatterers here are all mutes: the oaks, the beeches, the chestnuts,
seem to contend which best shall please the lord of the manor. They
cannot deceive; they will not lie. I in sincerity admire them, and have
as many beauties about me as fill up all my hours of dangling, and no
disgrace attending me, from sixty-seven years of age. Within doors we
come a little nearer to real life, and admire, upon the almost speaking
canvas, all the airs and graces the proudest ladies can boast.'

In these pursuits Horace cordially shared. Through his agency, Horace
Mann, still in the diplomatic service, at Florence, selected and
purchased works of art, which were sent either to Arlington Street, or
to form the famous Houghton Collection, to which Horace so often refers
in that delightful work, his 'Anecdotes of Painting.'

Amongst the embellishments of Houghton, the gardens were the most
expensive.

'Sir Robert has pleased himself,' Pulteney, Earl of Bath, wrote, 'with
erecting palaces and extending parks, planting gardens in places to
which the very earth was to be transported in carriages, and embracing
cascades and fountains whose water was only to be obtained by aqueducts
and machines, and imitating the extravagance of Oriental monarchs, at
the expense of a free people whom he has at once impoverished and
betrayed.'

The ex-minister went to a great expense in the cultivation of plants,
bought Uvedale's 'Hortus Siccus;' and received from Bradley, the
Professor of Botany at Cambridge, the tribute of a dedication, in which
it was said that 'Sir Robert had purchased one of the finest collections
of plants in the kingdom.'

What was more to his honour still, was Sir Robert's preservation of St.
James's Park for the people. Fond of outdoor amusements himself, the
Premier heard, with dismay, a proposal on the part of Queen Caroline to
convert that ancient park into a palace garden. 'She asked my father,'
Horace Walpole relates, 'what the alteration might possibly
cost?' - _Only three crowns_' was the civil, witty, candid answer. The
queen was wise enough to take the hint. It is possible she meant to
convert the park into gardens that should be open to the public as at
Berlin, Mannheim, and even the Tuileries. Still it would not have been
ours.

Horace Walpole owed, perhaps, his love of architecture and his taste for
gardening, partly to the early companionship of Gray, who delighted in
those pursuits. Walpole's estimation of pictures, medals, and statues,
was however the fruit of a long residence abroad. We are apt to rail at
continental nations; yet had it not been for the occasional intercourse
with foreign nations, art would have altogether died out among us. To
the 'Grandes Tours,' performed as a matter of course by our young
nobility in the most impressionable period of their lives we owe most of
our noble private collections. Charles I. and Buckingham, renewed, in
their travels in Spain, the efforts previously made by Lord Arundel and
Lord Pembroke, to embellish their country seats. Then came the
Rebellion; and like a mighty rushing river, made a chasm in which much


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Online LibraryPhilip WhartonThe Wits and Beaux of Society Volume 2 → online text (page 2 of 23)