HORACE WALPOLE may perhaps be esteemed fortunate in having met with two such biographers as Sir Walter Scott and Lord Dover. But it would have been peculiarly hard, if an author, who has done so much to throw light on the memoirs of so many of his contemporaries, had himself failed in receiving the attention of the ablest writers of the following generation.
Sir Walter Scott, in his "Lives of the Novelists," deals with Horace Walpole principally as the author of the "Castle of Otranto." Lord Dover's elegant and accurate memoir traces his career throughout his long life, and brings before the reader's notice all the varied productions of Horace Walpole's keen and graceful pen.
Lord Dover's diligence, candour, and good taste, as the biographer and editor of Horace Walpole, have been generally and justly eulogised; and instead of endeavouring to compete with what I heartily admire, and thoroughly agree with, I shall, in the following sketch, largely adopt his Lordship's performance, availing myself, at every opportunity, of Sir Walter Scott's collateral narrative; and also of an able though severe review of Horace Walpole's life and character, by a writer in one of our principal periodicals [author's note: Quarterly Review, vol. xix. p. 9].
Horace Walpole was the third and youngest son of "that eminent minister, Sir Robert Walpole; the glory of the Whigs, the preserver of the throne of these realms to the present royal family, and under whose fostering rule and guidance, the country flourished in peace for more than twenty years." (These are Lord Dover's words.)
Horace Walpole was born October 5th, 1717, and educated on the foundation at Eton. In 1734 he went to King's College, Cambridge, as a Fellow-Commoner. Walpole formed at Eton a warm friendship with Gray, West, and Ashton (afterwards Fellow of Eton), which they called the Quadruple Alliance. Walpole, like his friends, was not only a good classical scholar, but a sincere lover of the study. In one of his first letters, after leaving Eton for Cambridge, he proposes to his friend West, who had gone to the sister university, "to hold a classical correspondence." He says, "I can never forget the many agreeable hours we have passed in reading Horace and Virgil; and I think they are topics which will never grow stale. Let us extend the Roman empire, and cultivate two barbarous towns,' o'errun with rusticity and mathematics. The creatures are so used to a circle, that they plod on in the same eternal round, with their whole view confined to a 'punctum, cujus nulla est pars;'
'Their time a moment, and a point their space.'
Orabunt causas melius, coelique meatus
Describent radio, et surgentia sidera dicent:
Te coluisse novem Musas, Romane, memento;
Hae tibi erunt artes.—
"We have not the least poetry here; for I can't call verses on the 5th of November and 30th of January by that name, — more than four lines on a chapter in the New Testament is an epigram. Tydeus rose and set at Eton: he is only known here to be a scholar at King's. Oromasdes and Almanzors are just the same; that is, I am almost the only person they are acquainted with, and consequently the only person acquainted with their excellencies. Plato improves every day; so does my friendship with him. These three divide my whole time, though I believe you will guess there is no quadruple alliance: that was a happiness I only enjoyed when you was at Eton. A short account of the Eton people at Oxford would much oblige,
My dear West,
Your faithful friend,
There are several other letters of Walpole's which prove him to have been a zealous Etonian. Some of his critics have said, that his affection for General Conway was the only instance in which he ever showed the least warmth of heart. I think that his grateful love for Eton might have been referred to as one instance more.
In 1736, he thus commences a letter to West:—
"TO RICHARD WEST, ESQ.
KING'S COLLEGE, Aug. 17, 1736.
Gray is at Burnham, and, what is surprising, has not been at Eton. Could you live so near it, without seeing it? That dear scene of our quadruple alliance would furnish me with the most agreeable recollections. 'Tis the head of our genealogical table, that is since sprouted out into the two branches of Oxford and Cambridge."
In the next year he realised the anticipations above expressed, of the pleasure of revisiting the "dear scene," and thus described to another friend, an old schoolfellow, George Montagu, what he felt at finding himself once more at "The Christopher," which then stood on the classic side of the Rubicon; that is to say, was within bounds close to the College, and not, as at present, far on the barbaric side of Barnes-pool.
"TO GEORGE MONTAGU, ESQ.
CHRISTOPHER INN, ETON.
The Christopher; Lord! how great I used to think anybody just arrived at the Christopher! But there are no boys for me to send for — here I am, like Noah, just returned into his old world again, with all sorts of queer feels about me. By the ways the clock strikes the old cracked sound. I recollect so much, and remember so little — and want to play about — and am so afraid of my playfellows — and am ready, to shirk Ashton — and can't help making fun of myself — and envy a dame over the way, that has just locked in her boarders, and is going to sit down in a little hot parlour to a very bad supper, so comfortably! and I could be so jolly a dog if I did not 'fat,' which, by the way, is the first time the word was ever applicable to me. In short, I should be out of all bounds if I was to tell you half I feel, — how young again I am one minute, and how old the next. But do come and feel with me, when you will — to-morrow — Adieu! If I don't compose myself a little more before Sunday morning, when Ashton is to preach, I shall certainly 'be in the bill for laughing in church;' but how to help it, to see him in the pulpit, when, the last time I saw him here, he was standing up, funking over against a conduct to be catechised.
Good night! yours."
Walpole had, while at Cambridge, kept up his old school friendship with Gray, and they determined to make the usual tour on the Continent together.
"They commenced their journey in March, 1739, and continued abroad above two years. Almost the whole of this time was spent in Italy, and nearly a year of it was devoted to Florence; where Walpole was detained by the society of his friends, Mr. Mann, Mr. Chute, and Mr. Whithed. It was in these classic scenes that his love of art and taste for elegant and antiquarian literature became more developed; and that it took such complete possession of him as to occupy the whole of his long life, diversified only by the occasional amusement of politics, or the distractions of society. Unfortunately, the friendship of Walpole and his travelling companion could not survive two years of constant intercourse: they quarrelled and parted at Reggio, in July, 1741, and afterwards pursued their way homewards by different routes.
"Walpole arrived in England in September, 1741, at which time his correspondence with Sir Horace Mann commences. He had been chosen member for Callington, in the Parliament which was elected in June of that year; and arrived in the House of Commons just in time to witness the angry discussions which preceded and accompanied the downfal of his father's administration. He plunged at once into the excitement of political partisanship with all the ardour of youth, and all the zeal which his filial affection for his father inspired. Public business and attendance upon the House of Commons, apart from the interest attached to peculiar questions, he seems never to have liked. He consequently took very little part either in debates or committees. In March, 1742, on a motion being made for an inquiry into the conduct of Sir Robert Walpole for the preceding ten years, he delivered his maiden speech; on which he was complimented by no less a judge of oratory than Pitt. He moved the Address in 1751; and in 1756 made a speech on the question of employing Swiss regiments in the colonies. This speech he has also himself preserved in the second volume of his 'Memoires.' In 1757 he was active in his endeavours to save the unfortunate Admiral Byng. Of his conduct upon this occasion he has left a detailed account in his 'Memoires.' This concludes all that can be collected of his public life, and at the general election of 1768 he finally retired from Parliament.
"Upon this occasion he writes thus to George Montagu: — 'As my senatorial dignity is gone, I shall not put you to the expense of a cover; and I hope the advertisement will not be taxed, as I seal it to the paper. In short, I retain so much iniquity from the last infamous Parliament, that you see I would still cheat the public. The comfort I feel in sitting peaceably here, instead of being at Lynn, in the high fever of a contested election, which, at best, would end in my being carried about that large town like a figure of a pope at a bonfire, is very great. I do not think, when that function is over, that I shall repent my resolution. What could I see but sons and grandsons playing over the same knaveries that I have seen their fathers and grandfathers act? Could I hear oratory beyond my Lord Chatham's? Will there ever be parts equal to Charles Townshend's? Will George Grenville cease to be the most tiresome of beings?'
"From this time Walpole devoted himself more than ever to his literary and antiquarian pursuits; though the interest he still, in society, at least, took in politics, is obvious, from the frequent reference to the subject in his letters. In the course of his life, his political opinions appear to have undergone a great change. In his youth, and indeed till his old age, he was not only a strenuous Whig, but at times almost a Republican. How strong his opinions were in this sense, may be gathered both from the frequent confessions of his political faith, which occur in his letters, and from his reverence for the death-warrant of Charles the First, of which he hung up the engraving in his bed-room, and wrote upon it with his own hand the words 'Major Charta.' The horrors of the French Revolution drove him, in the latter period of his life, into other views of politics; and he seems to have become, in theory at least, a Tory, though he probably would have indignantly repudiated the appellation, had it been applied to him."
Horace Walpole derived some substantial benefits from being Sir Robert's son. In the year 1738, arrived at majority, he was appointed Inspector-General of the Exports and Imports, which office he afterwards exchanged for that of Usher of the Exchequer, a less troublesome duty, which required the appendage of very few signatures excepting those required to draw the salary. He also obtained several other valuable appointments, out of the large mass which the Premier in those days had it in his power to dispose of. That portion of them which fell to the lot of Horace, consisting of five several offices, produced, according to calculations from his own admissions, £3900 while the Commissioners of Inquiry reckoned them at £6300, and his biographers, probably with a nearer approach to truth, generally name his income as amounting to about £5000 a-year. It is thus evident that Walpole was no inconsiderable tax-eater, though he seems himself often to have become oblivious of the fact, when he was pointing his sarcasm at others for living on public money, or pouring forth professions of ultra-reform, disinterestedness, and independence.
Even during the earlier part of his career his politics had varied a good deal, (as indeed, Lord Devon quietly asks, whose in a long life do not?) but in Walpole's the cause of variation was an amiable one. His attachment to his friend Marshal Conway was extremely strong. In 1744 he had offered to share his fortune with him, in order to enable Conway to marry a lady whom he was in love with. It is to be observed also, that Walpole's places were not then so lucrative as they afterwards became.
"Nothing," he writes to his friend in 1741, "could prevent my being unhappy at the smallness of your fortune, but its throwing it into my way to offer you to share mine. As mine is so precarious by depending on so precarious a constitution, I can only offer you the immediate use of it. I do that most sincerely. My places still (though my Lord W. has cut off three hundred pounds a-year to save himself the trouble of signing his name ten times for once) bring me in near two thousand pounds a-year. I have no debts — no connexions; indeed no way to dispose of it particularly. By living with my father, I have little real use for a quarter of it. I always flung it away all in the most idle manner. But, my dear Harry, idle as I am, and thoughtless, I have sense enough to have real pleasure in denying myself baubles, and in saving a very good income to make a man happy, for whom I have a just esteem and most sincere friendship."
Afterwards, in 1764, when Conway was turned out of his regiment and his place at Court, Walpole again renewed this offer with much earnestness. This attachment to his friend "caused him also to look with a favourable eye upon the government of the day whenever Mr. Conway was employed, and to follow him implicitly in his votes in the House of Commons. Upon this subject he writes thus to Conway, who had not told him beforehand of a speech he made on the Qualification Bill, in consequence of which Walpole was absent from the House of Commons upon that occasion: — 'I don't suspect you of any reserve to me; I only mention it now for an occasion of telling you, that I don't like to have anybody think that I would not do whatever you do. I am of no consequence; but, at least, it would give me some to act invariably with you, and that I shall most certainly be ever ready to do.' Upon another occasion he writes again in a similar strain: — 'My only reason for writing is to repeat to you, that whatever you do, I shall act with you. I resent anything done to you as to myself. My fortunes shall never be separated from yours, except that, some day or other, I hope yours will be great, and I am content with mine.'
"Upon one political point Horace Walpole appears to have entertained from the first the most just views, and even at a time when such were not sanctioned by the general opinion of the nation. From its very commencement, he objected to that disastrous contest, the American war, which, commenced in ignorant and presumptuous folly, was prolonged to gratify the wicked obstinacy of individuals, and ended, as Walpole had foretold it would, in the discomfiture of its authors and the national disgrace and degradation, after a profuse and useless waste of blood and treasure. Nor must his sentiments upon the Slave Trade be forgotten — sentiments which he held, too, in an age when, far different from the present one, the Assiento Treaty, and other horrors of the same kind, were deemed not only justifiable, but praiseworthy. 'We have been sitting,' he writes, on the 25th of February, 1750, 'this fortnight on the African Company. We, the British Senate, that temple of Liberty, and bulwark of Protestant Christianity, have this fortnight been considering methods to make more effectual that horrid traffic of selling negroes. It has appeared to us, that six-and-forty thousand of these wretches are sold every year to our plantations alone! It chills one's blood — I would not have to say I voted for it for the continent of America! The destruction of the miserable inhabitants by the Spaniards was but a momentary misfortune that flowed from the discovery of the New World, compared to this lasting havoc which it brought upon Africa. We reproach Spain, and yet do not even pretend the nonsense of butchering the poor creatures for the good of their souls.'
"One of the most favourite pursuits of Walpole was the building and decoration of his Gothic villa of Strawberry Hill. It is situated at the end of the village of Twickenham, towards Teddington, on a slope, which gives it a fine view of a reach of the Thames and the opposite wooded hill of Richmond Park. He bought it in 1747, of Mrs. Chenevix, the proprietress of a celebrated toy-shop. He thus describes it in a letter of that year to Mr. Conway: — 'You perceive by my date that I am got into a new camp, and have left my tub at Windsor. It is a little plaything-house that I got out of Mrs. Chenevix's shop, and is the prettiest bauble you ever saw. It is set in enamelled meadows, with filigree hedges:—
A small Euphrates through the piece is roll'd,
And little finches wave their wings of gold.
Two delightful roads, that you would call dusty, supply me continually with coaches and chaises; barges, as solemn as Barons of the Exchequer, move under my window; Richmond Hill and Ham Walks bound my prospects; but, thank God! the Thames is between me and the Duchess of Queensberry. Dowagers, as plenty as flounders, inhabit all around; and Pope's ghost is just now skimming under my window by a most poetical moonlight.'"
Here he amused himself for some time in planting wood, and in planning devices in Gothic architecture which might strike the attention without the addition of the massive profusion of the original Gothic, — a task in which he succeeded to a considerable extent. The library and dining-parlour were built in 1753; the gallery, round tower, great cloister, and cabinet, in 1760 and 1761. He filled this model with antiquities and works of art; and Strawberry Hill continued to be one of the show-places of England, and a Lilliputian model of a feudal museum, until its dismantlement, and the dispersion of its contents a few years ago.
Let us now turn from Walpole the politician and Walpole the collector, to Walpole the author.
"His first effort appears to have been a copy of verses, written at Cambridge. His poetry is generally not of a very high order; lively, and with happy turns and expressions, but injured frequently by a sort of quaintness, and a somewhat inharmonious rhythm. Its merits, however, exactly fitted it for the purpose which it was for the most part intended for; namely, as what are called vers de societe. Among the best of his verses may be mentioned those 'On the neglected Column in the Place of St. Mark, at Florence,' which contains some fine lines; his 'Twickenham Register;' and 'The Three Vernons.'
"In 1752 he published his 'Aedes Walpolianae,' or description of the family seat of Houghton Hall, in Norfolk, where his father had built a palace, and had made a fine collection of pictures, which were sold by his grandson George, third Earl of Orford, to the Empress Catherine of Russia. This work, which is, in fact, a mere catalogue of pictures, first showed the peculiar talent of Horace Walpole for enlivening, by anecdote and lightness of style, a dry subject. This was afterwards still more exemplified in his 'Anecdotes of Painting in England,' of which the different, volumes were published in 1761, 1763, and 1771; and in the 'Catalogue of Engravers,' published in 1763. These works were compiled from the papers of Vertue, the engraver; but Walpole, from the stores of his own historical knowledge, from his taste in the fine arts, and his happy manner of sketching characters, rendered them peculiarly his own. But his masterpiece in this line was his 'Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors,' originally published in 1758. It is very true, as Walter Scott observes, that 'it would be difficult, by any process or principle of subdivision, to select a list of so many plebeian authors, containing so very few whose genius was worthy of commemoration.' But this very circumstance renders the merit of Walpole the greater, in having, out of such materials, composed a work which must be read with amusement and interest, as long as liveliness of diction and felicity in anecdote are considered ingredients of amusement in literature.
"In 1757 Walpole established a private printing-press at Strawberry Hill, and the first work he printed at it was the Odes of Gray, with Bentley's prints and vignettes. Among the handsomest and most valuable volumes which subsequently issued from this press, in addition to Walpole's own 'Anecdotes of Painting,' and his description of Strawberry Hill, must he mentioned the quarto Lucan, with the notes of Grotius and Bentley; the Life of Lord Herbert of Cherbury by himself, Hentzner's Travels, and Lord Whitworth's account of Russia. Of all these he printed a very limited number. It does not, however, appear, as stated in the Biographical Dictionary, that he reserved all the copies as presents; on the contrary, it would seem that in most instances he sold a certain portion of the copies to the booksellers, probably with a view of defraying the expenses of his printing establishment. As, however, the supply in the book-market of the Strawberry Hill editions was very small, they generally sold for high prices, and a great interest was created respecting them."
In 1764 Walpole published one of the most remarkable of his works, "The Castle of Otranto;" and in 1768 his still more remarkable production, "The Mysterious Mother." This was printed at Strawberry Hill, but was not published till after Walpole's death. This tragedy, which is full of worse than Oedipean horrors, has received the high praise of Lord Byron. Lord Byron says—
"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 Ronanorum,' the author of the 'Mysterious Mother,' a tragedy of the highest order, and not a puling 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 writer, be he who he may."
On the other hand, Coleridge has spoken of Walpole's tragedy in the strongest terms of censure and disgust. The subject is too repulsive for discussion, but I certainly incline to Coleridge's opinion rather than to that of Byron.
With regard to the "Castle of Otranto," the best proof of its excellence is its enduring and widespread popularity. The story of the circumstances that led Walpole to compose it, is singular, and is thus narrated by the author in a letter dated 8th March, 1763:—
"Shall I confess to you what was the origin of this romance? I waked one morning in the beginning of last June from a dream, of which all I could recover was, that I had thought myself in an ancient castle, (a very natural dream for a head filled like mine with Gothic story,) and that on the uppermost bannister of a great staircase I saw a gigantic hand in armour. In the evening I sat down and began to write, without knowing in the least what I intended to say or relate. The work grew on my hands, and I grew fond of it. Add, that I was very glad to think of anything rather than politics. In short, I was so engrossed with my tale, which I completed in less than two months, that one evening I wrote from the time I had drank my tea, about six o'clock, till half an hour after one in the morning, when my hands and fingers were so weary, that I could not hold the pen to finish the sentence, but left Matilda and Isabella talking in the middle of a paragraph."
Sir Walter Scott, the highest of all critical authorities as to the merit of a romance, has highly eulogised this work of Walpole. He says—
"The style of the 'Castle of Otranto' is pure and correct English of the earlier and more classical standard. Mr. Walpole rejected, upon taste and principle, those heavy though powerful auxiliaries which Dr. Johnson imported from the Latin language, and which have since proved to many a luckless wight who has essayed to use them, as unmanageable as the gauntlets of Eryx,
—et pondus et ipsa
Huc illuc vinclorum immensa volumina versat.
"Neither does the purity of Mr. Walpole's language, and the simplicity of his narrative, admit that luxuriant, florid, and high-varnished landscape-painting with which Mrs. Radcliffe often adorned, and not unfrequently encumbered, her kindred romances. Description, for its own sake, is scarcely once attempted in the 'Castle of Otranto;' and if authors would consider how very much this restriction tends to realise narrative, they might be tempted to abridge at least the showy and wordy exuberance of a style fitter for poetry than prose. It is for the dialogue that Walpole reserves his strength; and it is remarkable how, while conducting his mortal agents with all the art of a modern dramatist, he adheres to the sustained tone of chivalry, which marks the period of the action. This is not attained by patching his narrative or dialogue with glossarial terms or antique phraseology, but by taking care to exclude all that can awaken modern associations.
"We have only to add," says Sir Walter, "in conclusion to these desultory remarks, that if Horace Walpole, who led the way in this new species of literary composition, has been surpassed by some of his followers in diffuse brilliancy of description, and perhaps in the art of detaining the mind of the reader in a state of feverish and anxious suspense, through a protracted and complicated narrative, more will yet remain with him than the single merit of originality and invention. The applause due to chastity and precision of style, — to a happy combination of supernatural agency with human interest, — to a tone of feudal manners and language, sustained by characters strongly drawn and well discriminated, — and to unity of action, producing scenes alternately of interest and of grandeur; — the applause, in fine, which cannot be denied to him who can excite the passions of fear and of pity, must be awarded to the author of the 'Castle of Otranto.'
"The next publication of Walpole was his 'Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard the Third,' one of the most ingenious historical and antiquarian dissertations which has ever issued from the press. He has collected his facts with so much industry, and draws his arguments and inferences from them with so much ability, that if he has not convinced the public of the entire innocence of Richard, he has, at all events, diminished the number of his crimes, and has thrown a doubt over his whole history, as well as over the credibility of his accusers, which is generally favourable to his reputation.
"The remainder of the works of Walpole, published or printed in his lifetime, consist of minor, or, as he calls them, 'Fugitive Pieces.' Of these the most remarkable are his papers in 'The World' and other periodicals; 'A Letter from Xo Ho, a Chinese Philosopher, in London,' on the politics of the day; the 'Essay on Modern Gardening;' the pamphlet called 'A Counter-Address,' on the dismissal of Marshal Conway from his command of a regiment; the fanciful, but lively, 'Hieroglyphic Tales;' and 'The Reminiscences,' or Recollections of Court and Political Anecdotes; which last he wrote for the amusement of the Miss Berrys."
In 1798, Miss Berry edited the "Works of the Earl of Orford," in 5 vols. 4to. This publication contained, in addition to the Miscellaneous Works of the noble author, his Letters to Richard West, Esq.; to the Hon. Henry Seymour Conway; to Richard Bentley, Esq.; to the poet Gray; to John Chute, Esq.; to the Earl of Strafford; to the Countess Dowager of Ailesbury; and to Miss Hannah More.
In 1818, Horace Walpole's Letters to George Montagu, Esq., and to the Rev. C. Cole, 4to, were published by Messrs. Rodwell and Martin. In 1825, Horace Walpole's Letters to the Earl of Hertford, in 4to, were published by Mr. Knight. In 1833, Mr. Bentley published the First Series of Horace Walpole's Letters to Sir Horace Mann, edited by the late Lord Dover, in 3 vols. 8vo.
In 1840, Mr. Bentley published the Collective Edition of the Letters of Horace Walpole. This well-annotated Edition comprised all the Letters which had been published to that date, namely, those published in 1798; those to George Montagu, and Rev. C. Cole; those to the Earl of Hertford, and the First Series of the Letters to Sir Horace Mann, to the death of George the Second, and a Series of Letters, then first published, to Miss Mary Berry.
The remaining Letters to Sir Horace Mann (permission to publish which had been previously withheld by the late Lord Holland) were published by Mr. Bentley in 1843; all the remaining Works in manuscript having been purchased by him of the present Duke of Grafton, as executor of the late Lord Waldegrave, for the sum of £800.
There have also been published his memoirs of the last ten years of the reign of George the Second, and his memoirs of the reign of George the Third. The latter appeared in 1845. His correspondence with the Rev. Thomas Mann is now in course of publication.
"A friend of Mr. Walpole's has observed, that 'his epistolary talents have shown our language to be capable of all the grace and all the charms of the French of Madame de Sevigne; and the remark is a true one, for he is undoubtedly the author who first proved the aptitude of our language for that light and gay epistolary style, which was before supposed peculiarly to belong to our Gallic neighbours. There may be letters of a higher order in our literature than those of Walpole. Gray's letters, and perhaps Cowper's, may be taken as instances of this; but where shall we find such an union of taste, humour, and almost of dramatic power of description and narrative, as in the Correspondence of Walpole? where such happy touches upon the manners and characters of the times? Where can we find such graphic scenes, as the funeral of George the Second; as the party to Vauxhall with Lady Harrington; as the ball at Miss Chudleigh's, in the letters already published; or as some of the House of Commons' debates, and many of the anecdotes of society, in those now offered to the world? Walpole's style in letter-writing is occasionally quaint, and sometimes a little laboured; but for the most part he has contrived to throw into it a great appearance of ease, as if he wrote rapidly and without premeditation. This, however, was by no means the case, as he took great pains with his letters, and even collected and wrote down beforehand, anecdotes, with a view to their subsequent insertion. Some of these stories have been discovered among the papers at Strawberry Hill."
Nothing has brought more obloquy upon Horace Walpole than his ill-treatment of
Chatterton, the marvellous boy,
The sleepless soul that perished in its pride.
But those who have investigated Walpole's conduct in this matter most carefully, Sir Walter Scott, Chalmers the compiler of the Biographical Dictionary, and Lord Dover, concur in acquitting him of all blame.
"It appears," says Lord Dover, "that in March, 1769, Walpole received a letter from Chatterton, enclosing a few specimens of the pretended poems of Rowley, and announcing his discovery of a series of ancient painters at Bristol. To this communication Walpole, naturally enough, returned a very civil answer. Shortly afterwards doubts arose in his mind as to the authenticity of the poems; these were confirmed by the opinions of some friends, to whom he showed them; and he then wrote an expression of these doubts to Chatterton. This appears to have excited the anger of Chatterton, who, after one or two short notes, wrote Walpole a very impertinent one, in which he demanded his manuscripts. This last letter Walpole had intended to have answered with some sharpness, but did not do so: he only returned the specimens of the 4th of August, 1769; and thus concluded the intercourse between them, and, as Walpole observes, "I never saw him there before, or since." Subsequently to this transaction, Chatterton acquired other patrons more credulous than Walpole, and proceeded with his forgeries. In April, 1770, he came to London, and committed suicide in August of that year; a fate which befell him, it is to be feared, more in consequence of his own dissolute and profligate habits, than from any want of patronage. However this may be, Walpole clearly had nothing to say to it.
In addition to the accusation of crushing instead of fostering his genius, Walpole has also been charged with cruelty in not assisting him with money. Upon this he very truly says himself: "Chatterton was neither indigent nor distressed at the time of his correspondence with me. He was maintained by his mother, and lived with a lawyer. His only pleas to my assistance were disgust to his profession, inclination to poetry, and communication of some suspicious MSS. His distress was the consequence of quitting his master and coming to London, and of his other extravagances. He had depended on the impulse of the talents he felt for making impressions, and lifting him to wealth, honours, and fame. I have already said, that I should have been blameable to his mother and society, if I had seduced an apprentice from his master to marry him to the nine Muses; and I should have encouraged a propensity to forgery, which is not the talent most wanting culture in the present age."
Towards the latter end of his days, Horace Walpole was afflicted with fits of an hereditary gout which a rigid temperance failed to remove. In 1791, by the death of his nephew, he succeeded to the title of Orford, at a period of his life when the pride of title, and the influence of increased fortune, had no charms for him, and the toils of additional greatness overbalanced the pleasures. 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 not unfrequently signed himself "The Uncle of the late Earl of Orford." He died at Berkeley-square, on the 2nd of March, 1797, in the eightieth year of his age.