1824 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Horace Walpole

John Wilson Croker to Lord Liverpool, 13 October 1824; The Croker Papers, ed. Louis J. Jennings (1884) 1:349-50.



Oct. 13th, 1824.

MY DEAR LORD,

I entirely agree in your lordship's opinion of Horace Walpole — there never lived a more selfish man; a more factious politician, a more calumnious writer. It is because I think him so, that I am anxious to prevent as far as I can his poisoning the sources of history. His descent, his name, his station, the force and vivacity of his style, his perpetual professions of disinterestedness, his apparent carelessness for office, have all contributed to him considerable authority, and I have no hesitation in saying that his "Memoirs" and letters, already voluminous, and of which I know that a great deal more is forthcoming, have given and will give a most false colour to the transactions and characters of his day. With regard to his "Memoirs" published two years ago, I think I may flatter myself that I did something, by a review in the Quarterly, towards exposing his errors and defeating his personal malevolence; and I am glad that the possessor of the letters, now about to be published, has permitted me to add such notes as I may think necessary to sift his truth from his falsehood, and to mix some grains of doubt and allowance into the mixture which his partiality has brewed, and which without some such corrective will poison the minds of posterity. I may be told, then why publish these letters at all? I answer that it does not depend upon me. Walpole seems to have taken care that all his remains shall be published, and I am confident that Lord Waldegrave's whole collection will (and that in obedience to Walpole's own wishes) be successively produced, and be probably edited (as the "Memoirs" were by Lord Holland) without one word to explain or correct the grossest errors and injustice.

I also perfectly agree with your lordship as to the causes of the otherwise unaccountable unpopularity of the early years of George III., and this judgment will be forcibly strengthened by some avowals made by Walpole in the very letters before me. Nothing can be more different than two modes of conducting Government affairs in this country, which are often confounded — I mean party and faction. Godolphin, Harley, Walpole, and latterly Mr. Pitt and his Tory successors and his Whig opponents, all proceeded on the principles of party. Newcastle, the elder Pitt, and Fox, the Grenvilles, Lord Bute, and all their underlings, the Doddingtons, Rigbys, Sandwiches, Ellises, Legges, &c., &c., conducted their administration by a balance of factions, and the alternate purchase and dismissal of little political coteries. The fate of the Coalition was the deathblow of that system. A long peace and great internal prosperity, by not affording great rallying points on which parties may be formed, will perhaps revive factions, and whenever that happens we shall see played over again all the lamentable scenes of the last years of George II. and the early ones of George III. If to these causes be added, a rapid succession of sovereigns and a minority or two, those who live to see such events will find subjects for a new "Doddington's Diary" and "Junius's Letters."

I will just state here, en passant, that I have strong reason to suspect that Lord George Sackville was the author of "Junius." He may have had a literary assistant, but I am convinced by a great variety of reasons, that he was substantially Junius as I have also little doubt that Walpole found the sarcasm and libel, and Mason the poetry of the celebrated "Heroic Epistle."

Mr. Prior, in his "Life of Burke," of which your lordship thinks so highly, takes on all the subjects (which, of course, Mr. Burke did not) the same view as the author of the "Sketch," though I do not think he had seen this pamphlet. In reply to your inquiry, I am sorry not to be able to give you any account of Mr. Prior. I am not acquainted with him, nor did I ever hear of him till his book appeared. He is evidently an Irishman; and perhaps may be some connexion of Mr. Burke's, though I doubt this; because my family was closely connected with Mr. Burke, and I never heard of any relationship with any one of the name of Prior. His book, in spite of many and great errors, I had almost said barbarisms of language, is all you say of it, and in some of his characters and parallels he is very able in his views and happy in his expressions. I shall endeavour to make his acquaintance; he resides in one of the villages in Surrey, near town.

J. C. W.