1863 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Horace Walpole

George Daniel, in "The Loving Cup and Horace Walpole" Love's Last Labour not Lost (1863) 76-77.



He commenced his literary career under false colours; declining to face openly the arrows of criticism; for the experiment had yet to be tried how the public would receive that startling novelty — an English romance founded on supernatural agency. The "Castle of Otranto," though it puzzled professional critics, soon became popular. The "Mysterious Mother" was a still bolder experiment. The revolting story was a true one. Walpole states that one of the party consulted Archbishop Tillotson on the affair; but Bishop Hall mentions it in is Cases of Conscience, printed in 1650. Consummate art and elegant poetry overcame that great stumbling-block, the unnatural horrors of the scene, and won the day. The "Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors" is written in a truly aristocratical spirit. Nothing mediocre can by an possibility proceed from a prince or a peer! The "Anecdotes of Painting" display more of the smatterer who has picked up a variety of superficial ideas, and technical terms, than of the tasteful connoisseur, who has made that grand art his study, and who is enthusiastically alive to its beauties. It is to the charm of his letters that Walpole chiefly owes his fame as an author. For brilliant wit, lively anecdote, and an easy, elegant style, he may rank with the Marquise de Sevigne; but of sublime and picturesque description, delicate satire, and generous sentiment, such as breathe through the letters of Gray, Cowper, and (occasionally) of Burns, he has little or none. The ante-chamber of the palace, the closet of the courtier, and the "penetralia" of some garrulous beauty, whose charity had gone the way of her charms, were the atmosphere in which he lived.