Horace Walpole.

Letters of Horace Walpole — Volume II online

. (page 9 of 22)
Online LibraryHorace WalpoleLetters of Horace Walpole — Volume II → online text (page 9 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

every coach, and demanded to have the masks pulled off and put on at
their pleasure, but with extreme good-humour and civility. I was with my
Lady Hertford and two of her daughters, in their coach: the mob took me
for Lord Hertford, and huzzaed and blessed me! One fellow cried out,
"Are you for Wilkes?" another said, "D - n you, you fool, what has Wilkes
to do with a Masquerade?"

In good truth, that stock is fallen very low. The Court has recovered a
majority of seventy-five in the House of Commons; and the party has
succeeded so ill in the Lords, that my Lord Chatham has betaken himself
to the gout, and appears no more. What Wilkes may do at his enlargement
in April, I don't know, but his star is certainly much dimmed. The
distress of France, the injustice they have been induced to commit on
public credit, immense bankruptcies, and great bankers hanging and
drowning themselves, are comfortable objects in our prospect; for one
tiger is charmed if another tiger loses his tail.

There was a stroke of the monkey last night that will sound ill in the
ears of your neighbour the Pope. The heir-apparent of the House of
Norfolk, a drunken old mad fellow, was, though a Catholic, dressed like
a Cardinal: I hope he was scandalised at the wives of our Bishops.

So you agree with me, and don't think that the crusado from Russia will
recover the Holy Land! It is a pity; for, if the Turks kept it a little
longer, I doubt it will be the Holy Land no longer. When Rome totters,
poor Jerusalem! As to your Count Orloff's[1] denying the murder of the
late Czar, it is no more than every felon does at the Old Bailey. If I
could write like Shakspeare, I would make Peter's ghost perch on the
dome of Sancta Sophia, and, when the Russian fleet comes in sight, roar,
with a voice of thunder that should reach to Petersburg,

Let me sit heavy on thy soul to-morrow!

[Footnote 1: Count Orloff was one of the Czarina's earlier lovers, and
was universally understood to have been the principal agent in the
murder of her husband.]

We have had two or three simpletons return from Russia, charmed with the
murderess, believing her innocent, _because_ she spoke graciously to
_them_ in the drawing-room. I don't know what the present Grand
Signior's name is, Osman, or Mustapha, or what, but I am extremely on
his side against Catherine of Zerbst; and I never intend to ask him for
a farthing, nor write panegyrics on him for pay, like Voltaire and
Diderot; so you need not say a word to him of my good wishes. Benedict
XIV. deserved my friendship, but being a sound Protestant, one would
not, you know, make all Turk and Pagan and Infidel princes too familiar.


_From a mezzotint by J. Simon after a picture by Sir Godfrey Kneller_]



STRAWBERRY HILL, _May_ 6, 1770.

I don't know whether Wilkes is subdued by his imprisonment, or waits for
the rising of Parliament, to take the field; or whether his dignity of
Alderman has dulled him into prudence, and the love of feasting; but
hitherto he has done nothing but go to City banquets and sermons, and
sit at Guildhall as a sober magistrate. With an inversion of the
proverb, "Si ex quovis Mercurio fit lignum!" What do you Italians think
of Harlequin Potesta?[1] In truth, his party is crumbled away strangely.
Lord Chatham has talked on the Middlesex election till nobody will
answer him; and Mr. Burke (Lord Rockingham's governor) has published a
pamphlet[2] that has sown the utmost discord between that faction and
the supporters of the Bill of Rights. Mrs. Macaulay[3] has written
against it. In Parliament their numbers are shrunk to nothing, and the
session is ending very triumphantly for the Court. But there is another
scene opened of a very different aspect. You have seen the accounts from
Boston. The tocsin seems to be sounded to America. I have many visions
about that country, and fancy I see twenty empires and republics forming
upon vast scales over all that continent, which is growing too mighty to
be kept in subjection to half a dozen exhausted nations in Europe. As
the latter sinks, and the others rise, they who live between the eras
will be a sort of Noahs, witnesses to the period of the old world and
origin of the new. I entertain myself with the idea of a future senate
in Carolina and Virginia, where their future patriots will harangue on
the austere and incorruptible virtue of the ancient English! will tell
their auditors of our disinterestedness and scorn of bribes and
pensions, and make us blush in our graves at their ridiculous
panegyrics. Who knows but even our Indian usurpations and villanies may
become topics of praise to American schoolboys? As I believe our virtues
are extremely like those of our predecessors the Romans, so I am sure
our luxury and extravagance are too.

[Footnote 1: Podesta was an officer in some of the smaller Italian
towns, somewhat corresponding to our mayor. The name is Italianised from
the Roman Potestas -

Hajus, quo trahitur, praetextam sumere mavis,
An Fidenarum, Gabiorumque esse Potestas.

(Juv., x. 100).]

[Footnote 2: The pamphlet is, "Thoughts on the Present Discontents,"
founding them especially on the unconstitutional influence of "the
King's friends."]

[Footnote 3: Mrs. Macaulay was the wife of a London physician, and
authoress of a "History of England" from the accession of James I. to
that of George I., written in a spirit of the fiercest republicanism,
but long since forgotten.]

What do you think of a winter Ranelagh[1] erecting in Oxford Road, at
the expense of sixty thousand pounds? The new bank, including the value
of the ground, and of the houses demolished to make room for it, will
cost three hundred thousand; and erected, as my Lady Townley[2] says,
_by sober citizens too_! I have touched before to you on the incredible
profusion of our young men of fashion. I know a younger brother who
literally gives a flower-woman half a guinea every morning for a bunch
of roses for the nosegay in his button-hole. There has lately been an
auction of stuffed birds; and, as natural history is in fashion, there
are physicians and others who paid forty and fifty guineas for a single
Chinese pheasant; you may buy a live one for five. After this, it is
not extraordinary that pictures should be dear. We have at present three
exhibitions. One West,[3] who paints history in the taste of Poussin,
gets three hundred pounds for a piece not too large to hang over a
chimney. He has merit, but is hard and heavy, and far unworthy of such
prices. The rage to see these exhibitions is so great, that sometimes
one cannot pass through the streets where they are. But it is incredible
what sums are raised by mere exhibitions of anything; a new fashion, and
to enter at which you pay a shilling or half-a-crown. Another rage, is
for prints of English portraits: I have been collecting them above
thirty years, and originally never gave for a mezzotinto above one or
two shillings. The lowest are now a crown; most, from half a guinea to a
guinea. Lately, I assisted a clergyman [Granger] in compiling a
catalogue of them; since the publication, scarce heads in books, not
worth threepence, will sell for five guineas. Then we have Etruscan
vases, made of earthenware, in Staffordshire, [by Wedgwood] from two to
five guineas, and _ormoulu_, never made here before, which succeeds so
well, that a tea-kettle, which the inventor offered for one hundred
guineas, sold by auction for one hundred and thirty. In short, we are at
the height of extravagance and improvements, for we do improve rapidly
in taste as well as in the former. I cannot say so much for our genius.
Poetry is gone to bed, or into our prose; we are like the Romans in
that too. If we have the arts of the Antonines, - we have the fustian

[Footnote 1: _"A winter Ranelagh._" - the Pantheon in Oxford Street.]

[Footnote 2: Lady Townley is the principal character in "The Provoked

[Footnote 3: West, as a painter, was highly esteemed by George III.,
and, on the death of Sir J. Reynolds, succeeded him as President of the
Royal Academy.]

Well! what becomes of your neighbours, the Pope and Turk? is one Babylon
to fall, and the other to moulder away? I begin to tremble for the poor
Greeks; they will be sacrificed like the Catalans, and left to be
impaled for rebellion, as soon as that vainglorious woman the Czarina
has glutted her lust of fame, and secured Azoph by a peace, which I hear
is all she insists on keeping. What strides modern ambition takes! _We_
are the successors of Aurungzebe; and a virago under the Pole sends a
fleet into the Aegean Sea to rouse the ghosts of Leonidas and
Epaminondas, and burn the capital of the second Roman Empire! Folks now
scarce meddle with their next door neighbours; as many English go to
visit St. Peter's who never thought of stepping into St. Paul's.

I shall let Lord Beauchamp know your readiness to oblige him, probably
to-morrow, as I go to town. The spring is so backward here that I have
little inducement to stay; not an entire leaf is out on any tree, and I
have heard a syren as much as a nightingale. Lord Fitzwilliam, who, I
suppose, is one of your latest acquaintance, is going to marry Lady
Charlotte Ponsonby, Lord Besborough's second daughter, a pretty,
sensible, and very amiable girl. I seldom tell you that sort of news,
but when the parties are very fresh in your memory. Adieu!



STRAWBERRY HILL, _May_ 6, 1770.

If you are like me, you are fretting at the weather. We have not a leaf,
yet, large enough to make an apron for a Miss Eve of two years old.
Flowers and fruits, if they come at all this year, must meet together as
they do in a Dutch picture; our lords and ladies, however, couple as if
it were the real _Gioventù dell' anno_. Lord Albemarle, you know, has
disappointed all his brothers and my niece; and Lord Fitzwilliam is
declared _sposo_ to Lady Charlotte Ponsonby. It is a pretty match, and
makes Lord Besborough as happy as possible.

Masquerades proceed in spite of Church and King. That knave the Bishop
of London persuaded that good soul the Archbishop to remonstrate against
them; but happily the age prefers silly follies to serious ones, and
dominos, _comme de raison_, carry it against lawn sleeves.

There is a new Institution that begins to make, and if it proceeds, will
make a considerable noise. It is a club of _both_ sexes to be erected at
Almack's, on the model of that of the men of White's. Mrs. Fitzroy, Lady
Pembroke, Mrs. Meynell, Lady Molyneux, Miss Pelham, and Miss Loyd, are
the foundresses. I am ashamed to say I am of so young and fashionable a
society; but as they are people I live with, I choose to be idle rather
than morose. I can go to a young supper, without forgetting how much
sand is run out of the hour-glass. Yet I shall never pass a triste old
age in turning the Psalms into Latin or English verse. My plan is to
pass away calmly; cheerfully if I can; sometimes to amuse myself with
the rising generation, but to take care not to fatigue them, nor weary
them with old stories, which will not interest them, as their adventures
do not interest me. Age would indulge prejudices if it did not sometimes
polish itself against younger acquaintance; but it must be the work of
folly if one hopes to contract friendships with them, or desires it, or
thinks one can become the same follies, or expects that they should do
more than bear one for one's good-humour. In short, they are a pleasant
medicine, that one should take care not to grow fond of. Medicines hurt
when habit has annihilated their force; but you see I am in no danger. I
intend by degrees to decrease my opium, instead of augmenting the dose.
Good night! You see I never let our long-lived friendship drop, though
you give it so few opportunities of breathing.



ARLINGTON STREET, _June_ 15, 1770.

I have no public event to tell you, though I write again sooner than I
purposed. The journey of the Princess Dowager to Germany is indeed an
extraordinary circumstance, but besides its being a week old, as I do
not know the motives, I have nothing to say upon it. It is much
canvassed and sifted, and yet perhaps she was only in search of a little
repose from the torrents of abuse that have been poured upon her for
some years. Yesterday they publicly sung about the streets a ballad, the
burthen of which was, _the cow has left her calf_. With all this we are
grown very quiet, and Lord North's behaviour is so sensible and moderate
that he offends nobody.

Our family has lost a branch, but I cannot call it a misfortune. Lord
Cholmondeley died last Saturday. He was seventy, and had a constitution
to have carried him to a hundred, if he had not destroyed it by an
intemperance, especially in drinking, that would have killed anybody
else in half the time. As it was, he had outlived by fifteen years all
his set, who have reeled into the ferry-boat so long before him. His
grandson seems good and amiable, and though he comes into but a small
fortune for an earl, five-and-twenty hundred a-year, his uncle the
general may re-establish him upon a great footing - but it will not be in
his life, and the general does not sail after his brother on a sea of

You have heard details, to be sure, of the horrible catastrophe at the
fireworks at Paris.[1] Francèes, the French minister, told me the other
night that the number of the killed is so great that they now try to
stifle it; my letters say between five and six hundred! I think there
were not fewer than ten coach-horses trodden to death. The mob had
poured down from the _Etoile_ by thousands and ten thousands to see the
illuminations, and did not know the havoc they were occasioning. The
impulse drove great numbers into the Seine, and those met with the most
favourable deaths.

[Footnote 1: The Dauphin had been married to the Archduchess Marie
Antoinette on May 16th, and on May 30th the city of Paris closed a
succession of balls and banquets with which they had celebrated the
marriage of the heir of the monarchy by a display of fireworks in the
Place Louis XV., in which the ingenuity of the most fashionable
pyrotechnists had been exhausted to outshine all previous displays of
the sort. But towards the end of the exhibition one of the explosives
set fire to a portion of the platforms on which the different figures
were constructed, and in a moment the whole woodwork was in a flame.
Three sides of the Place were enclosed, and the fourth was so blocked up
with carriages, that the spectators, who saw themselves surrounded with
flames, had no way to escape open. The carriage-horses, too, became
terrified and unmanageable. In their panic-stricken flight the
spectators trampled one another down; hundreds fell, and were crushed to
death by their companions; hundreds were pushed into the river and
drowned. The number of killed could never be precisely ascertained; but
it was never estimated below six hundred, and was commonly believed to
have greatly exceeded that number, as many of the victims were of the
poorer class - many, too, the bread-winners of their families. The
Dauphin and Dauphiness devoted the whole of their month's income to the
relief of the sufferers; and Marie Antoinette herself visited many of
the families whose loss seemed to have been the most severe: this
personal interest in their affliction which she thus displayed making a
deep impression on the citizens.]

This is a slight summer letter, but you will not be sorry it is so
short, when the dearth of events is the cause. Last year I did not know
but we might have a battle of Edgehill[1] by this time. At present, my
Lord Chatham could as soon raise money as raise the people; and Wilkes
will not much longer have more power of doing either. If you were not
busy in burning Constantinople, you could not have a better opportunity
for taking a trip to England. Have you never a wish this way? Think what
satisfaction it would be to me? - but I never advise; nor let my own
inclinations judge for my friends. I had rather suffer their absence,
than have to reproach myself with having given them bad counsel. I
therefore say no more on what would make me so happy. Adieu!

[Footnote 1: Edgehill was the first battle in the Great Rebellion,
fought October 23, 1642.]



STRAWBERRY HILL, _Saturday evening, Dec._ 29, 1770.

We are alarmed, or very glad, we don't know which. The Duke de Choiseul
is fallen! but we cannot tell yet whether the mood of his successors
will be peaceable or martial. The news arrived yesterday morning, and
the event happened but last Monday evening. He was allowed but three
hours to prepare for his journey, and ordered to retire to his seat at
Chanteloup; but there are letters that say, _qu'il ira plus loin_. The
Duke de Praslin is banished too - a disagreeable man; but his fate is a
little hard, for he was just going to resign the Marine to Châtelet,
who, by the way, is forbidden to visit Choiseul. I shall shed no tears
for Châtelet, the most peevish and insolent of men, our bitter enemy,
and whom M. de Choiseul may thank in some measure for his fall; for I
believe while Châtelet was here, he drew the Spaniards into the attack
of Falkland's Island. Choiseul's own conduct seems to have been not a
little equivocal. His friends maintained that his existence as a
minister depended on his preventing a war, and he certainly confuted the
Comptroller-General's plan of raising supplies for it. Yet, it is now
said, that on the very morning of the Duke's disgrace, the King
reproached him, and said "Monsieur, je vous avois dit, que je ne voulois
pas la guerre;" and the Duke d'Aiguillon's friends have officiously
whispered, that if Choiseul was out it would certainly be peace; but did
not Lord Chatham, immediately before he was Minister, protest not half a
man should be sent to Germany, and yet, were not all our men and all our
money sent thither? The Chevalier de Muy is made Secretary-at-War, and
it is supposed Monsieur d'Aiguillon is, or will be, the Minister.

Thus Abishag[1] has strangled an Administration that had lasted fourteen
years. I am sincerely grieved for the Duchess de Choiseul, the most
perfect being I know of either sex. I cannot possibly feel for her
husband: Corsica is engraved in my memory, as I believe it is on your
heart. His cruelties there, I should think, would not cheer his solitude
or prison. In the mean time, desolation and confusion reign all over
France. They are almost bankrupts, and quite famished. The Parliament
of Paris has quitted its functions, and the other tribunals threaten to
follow the example. Some people say, that Maupéou,[2] the Chancellor,
told the King that they were supported underhand by Choiseul, and must
submit if he were removed. The suggestion is specious at least, as the
object of their antipathy is the Duke d'Aiguillon. If the latter should
think a war a good diversion to their enterprises, I should not be
surprised if they went on, especially if a bankruptcy follows famine.
The new Minister and the Chancellor are in general execration. On the
latter's lately obtaining the _Cordon Bleu_,[3] this epigram appeared: -

Ce tyran de la France, qui cherche à mettre tout en feu,
Mérite un cordon, mais ce n'est pas le cordon bleu.

[Footnote 1: Madame du Barri. - WALPOLE.]

[Footnote 2: Maupéou was the Chancellor who had just abolished the
Parliaments, the restoration of which in the next reign was perhaps one
of the causes which contributed to the Revolution.]

[Footnote 3: The _Cordon Bleu_ was the badge of the Order of St. Louis,
established by Louis XIV.; the _cordon not_ blue was the hangman's

We shall see how Spain likes the fall of the author of the
"Family-compact."[1] There is an Empress[2] will not be pleased with
it, but it is not the Russian Empress; and much less the Turks, who are
as little obliged to that bold man's intrigues as the poor Corsicans.
How can one regret such a general _Boute-feu_?

[Footnote 1: Choiseul was the Minister when the "Family Compact" of 1761
was concluded between France and Spain. The Duc de Praslin, who shared
his fall, had been Secretary at War, and for some little time neither
his office nor that of Choiseul was filled up, but the work of their
departments was performed by Secretaries of State, the Duc d'Aiguillon,
in spite of the contempt in which he was deservedly held, being
eventually made Secretary for Foreign Affairs through the interest of
Mme. du Barri (Lacretelle, iv. 256).]

[Footnote 2: "_An Empress._" The Empress-Queen Maria Theresa, who
considered herself and her family under obligations to Choiseul for his
abandonment of the long-standing policy of enmity to the house of
Austria which had been the guiding principle of all French statesmen
since the time of Henry IV., and for the marriage of her favourite
daughter to the Dauphin.]

Perhaps our situation is not very stable neither. The world, who are
ignorant of Lord Weymouth's motives, suspect a secret intelligence with
Lord Chatham. Oh! let us have peace abroad before we quarrel any more at

Judge Bathurst is to be Lord Keeper, with many other arrangements in the
law; but as you neither know the persons, nor I care about them, I shall
not fill my paper with the catalogue, but reserve the rest of my letter
for Tuesday, when I shall be in town. No Englishman, you know, will
sacrifice his Saturday and Sunday. I have so little to do with all these
matters, that I came hither this morning, and left this new chaos to
arrange itself as it pleases. It certainly is an era, and may be an
extensive one; not very honourable to old King Capet,[1] whatever it may
be to the intrigues of his new Ministers. The Jesuits will not be
without hopes. They have a friend that made mischief _ante Helenam_.

[Footnote 1: Louis XV. - WALPOLE.]

_Jan._ 1, 1771.

I hope the new year will end as quietly as it begins, for I have not a
syllable to tell you. No letters are come from France since Friday
morning, and this is Tuesday noon. As we had full time to reason - in the
dark, the general persuasion is, that the French Revolution will produce
peace - I mean in Europe - not amongst themselves. Probably I have been
sending you little but what you will have heard long before you receive
my letter; but no matter; if we did not chat about our neighbour Kings,
I don't know how we should keep up our correspondence, for we are better
acquainted with King Louis, King Carlos, and Empresses Katharine and
Teresa, than you with the English that I live amongst, or I with your
Florentines. Adieu!



ARLINGTON STREET, _Feb._ 22, 1771.

Two days ago there began to be an alarm at the delay of the Spanish
courier, and people were persuaded that the King of Spain had refused to
ratify his ambassador's declaration; who, on the warrant of the French
King, had ventured to sign it, though expecting every hour to be
recalled, as he actually was two days afterwards. However, the night
before last, to the great comfort of Prince Masserano and our Ministers,
the ratification arrived; and, after so many delays and untoward
accidents, Fortune has interposed (for there has been great luck, too,
in the affair), and peace is again established. With you, I am not at
all clear that Choiseul was in earnest to make it. If he was, it was
entirely owing to his own ticklish situation. Other people think, that
this very situation had made him desperate; and that he was on the point
of striking a hardy stroke indeed; and meditated sending a strong army
into Holland, to oblige the Dutch to lend twelve men-of-war to invade
us. Count Welderen,[1] who is totally an anti-Gaul, assured me he did
not believe this project. Still I am very glad such a _boute-feu_ is

[Footnote 1: The Dutch Minister in England. He married a sister of Sir
John Griffin, Maid of Honour to Anne Princess of Orange. - WALPOLE.]

This treaty is an epoch; and puts a total end to all our preceding
histories. Long quiet is never probable, nor shall I guess who will
disturb it; but, whatever happens, must be thoroughly new matter, though

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryHorace WalpoleLetters of Horace Walpole — Volume II → online text (page 9 of 22)