LETTERS from the Hon. HORACE WALPOLE to GEORGE MONTAGU, Esq. From the Year 1736 to 1770. 4to. pp. 446. London, Rodwell & Martin.
HORACE WALPOLE was by no means a venerable or lofty character: — But he has here left us another volume of gay and graceful letters, which, though they indicate no peculiar originality of mind, or depth of thought, and are continually at variance with good taste and right feeling, still give a lively and amusing view of the time in which be lived. He was indeed a garrulous old man nearly all his days; and, luckily for his gossiping propensities, he was on familiar terms with the gay world, and set down as a man of genius by the Princess Amelia, George Selwyn, Mr. Chute, and all persons of the like talents and importance. His descriptions of court dresses, court revels, and court beauties, are in the highest style of perfection, — sprightly, fantastic and elegant: And the zeal with which he hunts after an old portrait or a piece of broken glass, is ten times more entertaining than if it were lavished on a worthier object. He is indeed the very prince of Gossips, — and it is impossible to question his supremacy, when he floats us along in a stream of bright talk, or shoots with us the rapids of polite conversation. He delights in the small squabbles of great politicians and the puns of George Selwyn, — enjoys to madness the strife of loo with half a dozen bitter old women of quality, — revels in a world of chests, cabinets, commode, tables, boxes, turrets, stands, old printing, and old china, — and indeed lets us loose at once amongst all the frippery and folly of the last two centuries, with an ease and a courtesy equally amazing and delightful. His mind, as well as his house, was piled up with Dresden china, and illuminated through painted glass; and we look upon his heart to have been little better than a case full of enamels, painted eggs, ambers, lapis lazuli, cameos, vases and rock-crystals. This may in some degree account for his odd and quaint manner of thinking, and his utter poverty of feeling: — He could not get a plain thought out of that cabinet of curiosities, his mind; — and he had no room for feeling, — no place to plant it in, or leisure to cultivate it. He was at all times the slave of elegant trifles; and could no more screw himself up into a decided and solid personage, than he could divest himself of petty jealousies and miniature animosities. In one word, every thing about him was in little; and the smaller the object, and the less its importance, the higher did his estimation and his praises of it ascend. He piled up trifles to a colossal height — and made a pyramid of nothings "most marvellous to see."
His political character was a heap of confusion: but the key to it is easy enough to find. He united an insufferable deal of aristocratical pretension with Whig professions, — and, under an assumed carelessness and liberality, he nourished a petty anxiety about court movements and a degree of rancour towards those who profited by them, which we should only look for in the most acknowledged sycophants of Government. He held out austere and barren principles, in short, to the admiration of the world, — but indemnified himself in practice by the indulgence of all the opposite ones. He wore his horse-hair shirt as an outer garment; and glimpses might always be caught of a silken garment within. He was truly of "outward show elaborate; of inward less exact." But, setting his political character — or rather the want of it — and some few private failings, and a good many other questionable peculiarities, aside, — we find Walpole an amusing companion, and should like to have such a chronicler of small matters every fifty or sixty years; — or it might be better, perhaps, if, like the aloe, they should blossom but once in a century. With what spirit does he speak of the gay and noble visitors at Strawberry Hill! How finely does he group, in his letters, the high-born and celebrated beauties of the court, with whom it was his fortune and his fancy to associate!
"Strawberry Hill is grown a perfect Paphos; it is the land of beauties. On Wednesday, the Dutchesses of Hamilton and Richmond, and Lady Ailesbury, dined there; the two latter staid all night. There never was so pretty a sight as to see them all sitting in the shell. A thousand years hence, when I begin to grow old, if that can ever be, I shall talk of that event, and tell young people how much handsome the women of my time were than they will be. Then I shall say, 'Women alter now: I remember Lady Ailesbury looking handsomer than her daughter the pretty Dutchess of Richmond, as the were sitting in the shell on my terrace, with the Dutchess of Richmond, one of the famous Gunnings,' &c. &c. Yesterday, t'other famous Gunning dined there. She has made a friendship with my charming niece, to disguise her jealousy of the new Countess's beauty: there were they two, their Lords, Lord Buckingham, and Charlotte. You will think that I did not choose men for my parties so well as women. I don't include Lord Waldegrave in this bad election."
All the rest is in the same style: and lords and ladies are shuffled about the whole work as freely as court cards in a party at Loo. Horace Walpole, to be sure, is always Pam: but this only makes the interest greater, and the garrulity more splendid. He is equally sprightly and facetious, whether he describes a King's death and funeral, or a quirk of George Selwyn; and is nearly as amusing when he recounts the follies and the fashions of the day, as when he affects to be patriotic, or solemnizes into the sentimental. His style is not a bit less airy when he deals with "the horrid story of Lord Ferrers's murdering his steward," than when it informs us that "Miss Chudleigh has called for the council books of the subscription conceit, and has struck off the name of Mrs. Naylor." He is equally amusing whether he record's the death of the brave Balmerino, or informs us that "old Dunch is dead."
The letters of eminent men make, to our taste, very choice and curious reading; and, except when their publication becomes a breach of honour or decorum, we are always rejoiced to meet with them in print. We should except, perhaps, the letters of celebrated warriors; which, for the most part, should only be published in the Gazette. But, setting these heroes aside, whose wits, Pope has informed us, "are kept in ponderous vases," letters are certainly the honestest records of great minds, that we can become acquainted with; and we like them die more, for letting us into the follies and treacheries of high the secrets of the gay and the learned world, and the mysteries of authorship. We are ushered, as it were, behind the scenes of life; and see gay ladies and learned men, the wise, the witty, and the ambitious, in all the nakedness, or undress at least, of their spirits. A poet, in his private letters, seldom thinks it necessary to keep up the farce of feeling: but casts off the trickery of sentiment, and glides into the unaffected wit, or sobers quietly into the honest man. By his published works, we know that an author becomes a "Sir John with all Europe;" and it can only be by his letters that we discover him to be "Jack with his brothers and sisters, and John with his familiars." This it is that makes the private letters of a literary person so generally entertaining. He is glad to escape from the austerity of composition, and the orthodoxy of thought; and feels a relief in easy speculations or ludicrous expressions. The finest, perhaps, in our language, are eminently of this description — we mean those of Gray to his friends or literary associates. His poetry is too scholastic and elaborate, and is too visibly the result of laborious and anxious study. But, in his letters, he at once becomes on easy, and graceful, and feeling writer. The composition of familiar letters just suited his indolence, his taste, and his humour. His remarks on poetry are nearly as good as poetry itself; — his observations on life are full of sagacity and fine understanding; — and his descriptions of natural scenery, or Gothic antiquities, are worth their weight in gold. Pope's letters, though extremely elegant, are failures as letters. He wrote them to the world, not to his friends; and they have therefore very much the air of universal secrets. Swift has recorded his own sour mind in many a bitter epistle; and his correspondence remains a stern and a brief chronicle of the time in which he lived. Cowper hath unwittingly beguiled us of many a long hour, by his letters to Lady Hesketh; and in the we see the fluctuations of his melancholy nature more plainly, than in all the biographical dissertations of his affectionate editor. — But we must not make catalogues, — nor indulge longer in this eulogy on letter-writing. We take a particular interest, we confess, in what is thus spoken aside, as it were, and without a consciousness of being overheard; — and is a spirit and freedom in the tone of works written for the post, which is scarcely ever to be found in those written for the press. We are much more edified by one letter of Cowper, than we should be by a week's confinement and hard labour in the metaphysical Bridewell of Mr. Coleridge; and a single letter from the pen of Gray, is worth all the pedlar-reasoning of Mr. Wordsworth's Eternal Recluse, from the hour he first squats himself down in the sun to the end of his preaching. In the first we have the light unstudied pleasantries of a wit, and a man of feeling; — in the last we are talked to death by an arrogant old proser, and buried in a heap of the most perilous stuff and the most dusty philosophy.
But to come back to the work before us. — Walpole evidently formed his style upon that of Gray, with whom he travelled; and, with his own fund of pleasantly and sarcasm, we know of no other writer whom he could so successfully have studied. There are some odd passages on Gray, scattered up and down the present volume, which speak more for the poet than for the justice or friendship of Walpole. In one letter he says,
"The first volume of Spencer is published with prints designed by Kent; — but the most execrable performance you ever beheld. The graving not worse than the drawing; awkward knights, scrambling Unas, hills tumbling down themselves, no variety of prospect, and three or four perpetual spruce firs. — Our charming Mr. Bentley is doing Mr. Gray as much more honour as he deserves than Spencer!"
This is indeed a lordly criticism. We really never saw so much bad taste condensed into so small a portion of prose. But he next shows us what ladies of the court think of men of letters, and how lords defend them.
"My Lady Ailesbury has been much diverted, and so will you too. Gray is in their neighbourhood. My Lady Carlisle says he is extremely like me in his manner. They went a party to dine on a cold loaf, and passed the day. Lady A. protests he never opened his lips but once, and then only said, 'Yes, my Lady, I believe so.'
"I agree with you most absolutely in your opinion about Gray; he is the worst company in the world. From a melancholy turn, from living reclusely, and from a little too much dignity, he never converses easily. All his words are measured and chosen, and formed into sentences. His writings are admirable. He himself is not agreeable."
But it is not only to his particular friends that he is thus amiably candid. Two other great names are dealt with in the same spirit in the following short sentence.
"Dr. Young has published a new book, on purpose, he says himself, to have an opportunity of telling a story that he has known these forty years. Mr. Addison sent for the young Lord Warwick, as he was dying, to show him in what peace a Christian could die. Unluckily he died of brandy. Nothing makes a Christian die in peace like being a maudlin! But don't say this in Gath, where you are."
It is worthy of remark, indeed, that Walpole never speaks with respect of any man of genius or talent, and, least of all, of those master spirits who "have got the start of this majestic world." He envied all great minds; and shrunk from encountering them, lest his own should suffer by the comparison. He contrived indeed to quarrel with all his better-spirited friends. Even the gentleman to whom these epistles were addressed, a correspondent of three score years' standing, fell at last under his displeasure, and was dismissed his friendship. He turned out the domestics of the heart as easily as those of the house; with little or no notice, and with threats of giving them a bad character as a return for their past services. He wished to have genius to wait upon him; but was always surprised that it would not submit to be a servant of all work. Poor Bentley, of whom we hear praises "high fantastical" in the early letters, meets with but scurvy treatment the moment he gets out of fashion with his half-patron and half-friend. He is all spirit, goodness and genius, till it falls to his turn to be disliked; and then the altered-patron sneers at his domestic misfortunes, depreciates his talents, and even chuckles at the failure of a play which the artist's necessities required should be successful. The following is the ill-natured passage to which we allude.
"No, I shall never cease being a dupe, till I have been undeceived round by every thing that calls itself a virtue. I came to town yesterday, through clouds of dust, to see The Wishes, and went actually feeling for Mr. Bentley, and full of the emotions he must be suffering. What do you think, in a house crowded, was the first thing I saw? Mr. and Madame Bentley perched up in the front boxes, and acting audience at his own play! No, all the impudence of false patriotism never came up to it. Did one ever hear of an author that had courage to see his own first night in public? I don't believe Fielding or Foote himself ever did; and this was the modest, bashful Mr. Bentley, that died at the thought of being known for an author even by his own acquaintance! In the stage-box was Lady Bute, Lord Halifax, and Lord Melcombe. I must say, the two last entertained the house as much as the play. Your King was prompter, and called out to the actors every minute to speak louder. The other went backwards and forwards behind the scenes, fetched the actors into the box, and was busier than Harlequin. The curious prologue was not spoken — the whole very ill acted. It turned out just what I remembered it: the good parts extremely good; the rest very flat and vulgar, &c."
A poor painter of the name of Muntz is worse off even than Bentley; and is abused in a very ungenerous way for want of gratitude, and unmerciful extortion. There is a sad want of feeling and dignity in all this; but the key to it is, that Walpole was a miser. He loved the arts after a fashion; but his avarice pinched his affections. He would have had "that which he esteemed the ornament of life," but that he "lived a coward in his own esteem." The following haggling passage in one of his letters would disgrace a petty merchant in Duke's Place, in a bargain for the reversion of an old pair of trowsers.
"I am disposed to prefer the younger picture of Madame Grammont by Lely; but I stumbled at the price; twelve guineas for a copy in enamel is very dear. Mrs. Vesey tells me his originals cost sixteen, and are not so good as his copies. I will certainly have none of his originals. His, what is his name? I would fain resist this copy; I would more fain excuse myself for having it. I say to myself it would be rude not to have it, now Lady Kingsland and Mr. Montagu have had so much trouble. Well — I think I most have it, as my Lady Wishfort says, why does not the fellow take me? Do try if he will take ten; — remember it is the younger picture."
Thus did he coquet with his own avarice. Of poor Mason, another of his dear friends, he speaks thus spitefully—
"Mr. Mason has published another drama, called Caractacus. There are some incantations poetical enough, and odes so Greek as to have very little meaning. But the whole is laboured, uninteresting, and no more resembling the manners of Britons than of Japanese. It is introduced by a piping elegy; for Mason, in imitation of Gray, will cry and roar all night, without the least provocation."
Mason might have endured the paltriness of this remark, if he could have seen the following pertinent remark on the Cymbeline of Shakespeare.
"You want news. I must make it if I send it. To change the dulness of the scene, I went to the play, where I had not been this winter. They are so crowded, that though I went before six, I got no better place than a fifth row, where I heard very ill, and was pent for five hours without a soul near me that I knew. It was Cymbeline; and appeared to me as long as if every body in it went really to Italy in every act, and back again. With a few pretty passages and a scene or two, it is so absurd and tiresome, that I am persuaded Garrick ****"
This precious piece of criticism is cut short; whether from the sagacity of the editor or the prudence of the publishers, we cannot say. But it is much to be lamented. For it must have been very edifying to have seen Shakespeare thus pleasantly put down with a dash of the Honourable Mr. Walpole's pen — as if he had never written any thing better than the Mysterious Mother.
A conversation is here recorded between Hogarth and Walpole, which seems to us very curious and characteristic: though we cannot help smiling a little at the conclusion, where our author humanely refrains from erasing the line of praise which he had "consecrated" to Hogarth; — as if the painter would infallibly have been damned into oblivion by that portentous erasure. But he is of the stuff that cannot die. With many defects, he was a person of great and original powers — a true and a terrific historian of the human heart and his works will be remembered and read, as long as men and women retain their old habits, passions and vices. The following is the conversation of which we have spoken.
"Hogarth. — I am told you are going to entertain the town with something in our way. Walpole. — Not very soon, Mr. Hogarth. — H. I wish you would let me have it to correct; I should be very sorry to have you expose yourself to censure; we painters must know more of those things than other people. W. Do you think nobody understands painting but painters? H. Oh! so far from it, there's Reynolds who certainly has genius; why but t'other day he offered a hundred pounds for a picture that I would not hang in my cellars: and indeed to say truth, I have generally found that persons, who had studied painting least, were the best judges of it; but what I particularly wished to say to you was about Sir James Thornhill (you know he married Sir James's daughter) I would not have you say any thing against him: There was a book published some time ago, abusing him, and it gave great offence. He was the first that attempted history in England; and I assure you, some Germans have said that he was a very great painter. W. My work will go no lower than the year one thousand seven hundred, and I really have not considered whether Sir J. Thornhill will come into my plan or not: If he does, I fear you and I shall not agree upon his merits. H. I wish you would let me correct it; besides I am writing something f the same kind myself — I should be sorry we should clash. W. I believe it is not much known what my work is; very few persons have seen it. H. Why it is a critical history of painting is it not? W. No, it is an antiquarian history of it in England. I bought Mr. Vertue's MSS. and I believe the work will not give much offence; besides if it does I cannot help it: when I publish any thing I give it to the world to think as they please. H. Oh! if it is an antiquarian work we shall not clash; mine is a critical work; I don't know whether I shall ever publish it. It is rather an apology for painters. I think it is owing to the good sense of the English that they have not painted better. W. My dear Mr. Hogarth, I must take my leave of you; you now grow too wild — and I left him. If I had staid, there remained nothing but for him to bite me. I give you my honour this conversation is literal and, perhaps as long as you have known Englishmen and painters you never met with any thing so distracted. I had consecrated a line to his genius (I mean for wit) in my preface; I shall not erase it; but I hope no one will ask me if he is not mad."
We do not think he was mad: — But the self-idolatry of fanciful persons often exhibits similar symptoms. A man of limited genius, accustomed to contemplate his own conceptions, has long settled his ideas as to every thing, and every other person existing in the world. He thinks nothing truly bright that does not reflect his own image back upon himself; — nothing truly beautiful, that is not made so by the lustre of his own feelings. He lives in a sort of chaste singleness; and holds every approach of a stronger power as dangerous to his solitary purity. He thinks nothing so important as his own thoughts — nothing so low, that his own fancy cannot elevate into greatness. He sees only "himself and the universe;" and will "admit no discourse to his beauty." He is himself — alone! If such a man had had a voice in the management of the flood, he would have suffered no creeping thing to enter the ark but himself; and would have floated about the waters for forty days in lonely magnificence.
Passages of the kind, we have hitherto instanced, are very plentiful in all parts of the work; and we are glad they are numerous, — because they will set Walpole's higher pretensions at rest with posterity. Time is a disinterested personage, and does his work on dull or rash men fairly and effectually. He knows nothing of criticism but its austerity and its sarcasm. He cannot feel poetry; and has, therefore, no right to settle its laws, or imitate its language. His taste in painting was affected and dogmatical. His conduct to men of genius was a piece of insolence, which Posterity is bound to resent! The true heirs of fame are not to be disturbed in the enjoyment of their property, by every insolent pretender who steps in and affects a claim upon it. The world is called on "to defend the right."
To come, however, to the better side of our subject. — Walpole is, as we have said, an inimitable gossip, — a most vivacious garrulous historian of fair-haired women, and curious blue china. His garrulity, moreover, hath a genius of its own — and a transparent tea-cup lets in the light of inspiration upon it, and makes it shine with colours nigh divine. An inlaid commode is, with him, the mind's easy chair. We shall select a few passages from the letters before us, which, for pleasantry, ease and alertness, are by far the gayest morceau of description we have read of late. We may begin with a curious anecdote of Fielding, which is almost as interesting as any thing in the book. Thus it is—
"Take sentiments out of their pantoufles, and reduce them to the infirmities of mortality, what a falling off there is! I could not help laughing in myself t'other day, as I went through Holborn in a very hot day, at the dignity of human nature. All those foul old-clothes women panting without handkerchiefs, and mopping themselves all the way down within their loose jumps. Rigby gave me as strong a picture of nature, he and Peter Bathurst, t'other night, carried a servant of the latter's, who had attempted to shoot him, before Fielding; who, to all his other vocations, has, by the grace of Mr. Lyttleton, added that of Middlesex Justice. He sent them word that he was at supper; that they must come next morning. They did not understand that freedom, and ran up, where they found him banqueting with a blind man, a w—, and three Irishmen, on some cold mutton and a bone of ham, both in one dish, and the dirtiest cloth. He never stirred, nor asked them to sit. Rigby, who had seen him so often come to beg a guinea of Sir C. Williams, and Bathurst, at whose father's he had lived for victuals, understood that dignity as little, and pulled themselves chairs, — on which he civilized."
It is very certain that the writings of men are coloured by their indolence, their amusements, and their occupations; and this little peep into Fielding's private hours, lets us at once into his course of studies, and is an admirable illustration of his Tom Jones, Jonathan Wild, and other novels. We are taken into the artist's workshop, and shown the models from which he works; or rather, we break in upon him at a time when he is copying from the life. It is a very idle piece of morality, to lament over Fielding for this low indulgence of his appetite for character. If he had been found quietly at his tea, he would never have left behind him the name he has done. There is nothing of a tea inspiration in any of his novels. They are assuredly the finest things of the kind in the language; and we are Englishmen enough to consider them the best in any language. They are indubitably the most English of all the works of Englishmen.
The descriptions of Lord Ferrers's fatal murder, and of Balmerino's death, are given with considerable spirit — (our author, indeed, is extremely piquant in matters of life and death); and we are puzzled which to select for our readers. They are both strongly illustrative of the times in which Walpole and the heroes of them lived; but we cannot afford room for them both; and we choose the latter on Lord Ferrers, — not because it is better written, or that the subject is more interesting, but because the book before us is open at that part, and because we would not idly meddle with so heroic a fall as that of the Lord Balmerino.
"The extraordinary history of Lord Ferrers is closed: He was executed yesterday. Madness, that in other countries is a disorder, is here a systematic character: It does not hinder people from forming a plan of conduct, and from even dying agreeably to it. You remember how the last Ratcliffe died with the utmost propriety; so did this horrid lunatic, coolly and sensibly. His own and his wife's relations had asserted that he would tremble at last. No such thing; he shamed heroes. He bore the solemnity of a pompous and tedious procession of above two hours, from the Tower to Tyburn, with as much tranquillity as if he was only going to his own burial, not to his own execution. He even talked of indifferent subjects the passage; and if the sheriff and the chaplains had not thought that they had parts to act too, and had not consequently engaged him in most particular conversation, he did not seem to think it necessary to talk on the occasion. He went in his wedding-clothes; marking the only remaining impression on his mind. The ceremony he was in a hurry to have over. He was stopped at the gallows by a vast crowd; but got out of his coach as soon as he could, and was but seven minutes on the scaffold; which was hung with black, and prepared by the undertaker of his family at their expense. There was a new contrivance for sinking the stage under him, which did not play well; and he suffered a little by the delay, but was dead in four minutes. The mob was decent, and admired him, and almost pitied him; so they would Lord George, whose execution they are so angry at missing. I suppose every highwayman will now preserve the blue handkerchief he has about his neck when he is married, that he may die like a lord. With all his madness, he was not mad enough to be struck with his aunt Huntingdon's sermons. The Methodists have nothing to brag of his conversion; though Whitfield prayed for him, and preached about him. Even Tyburn has been above their reach. I have not heard that Lady Fanny dabbled with his soul; but I believe she is prudent enough to confine her missionary zeal to subjects where the body may be her perquisite."
The following is the account of Walpole's visit to Newsted Abbey, — the seat of the Byrons.
"As I returned, I saw Newsted and Althorpe; I like both. The former is the very abbey. The great east window of the church remains, and connects with the house; the hall entire, the refectory entire, the cloister untouch'd, with the ancient cistern of the convent, and their arms on; It is a private chapel, quite perfect. The park, which is still charming, has not been so much unprofaned: The present lord has lost large sums, and paid part in old oaks; five thousand pounds of which have been cut near the house. In recompense, has built two baby forts, to pay his country in castles for damage done to the navy; and planted a handful of Scotch firs, that look like ploughboys dress'd in old family liveries for a public day. In the hall is a very good collection of pictures, all animals; the refectory now the great drawing room, is full of Byrons; the vaulted roof remaining, but the windows have new dresses making for them by a Venetian tailor."
This is a careless, but happy description, of one of the noblest mansions in England; and it will now be read with a far deeper interest than when it was written. Walpole saw the seat of the Byrons, old, majestic, and venerable; — but he saw nothing of that magic beauty which Fame sheds over the habitations of Genius, and which now mantles every turret of Newsted Abbey. He saw it when Decay was doing its work on the cloister, the refectory, and the chapel, and all its honours seemed mouldling into oblivion. He could not know that a voice was soon to go forth from those antique cloisters, that should be heard through all future ages, and cry, "Sleep no more, to all the house." Whatever may be its future fate, Newsted Abbey must henceforth be a memorable abode. Time may shed its wild flowers on the wails, and let the fox in upon the court-yard and the chambers. It may even pass into the hands of unlettered pride or plebeian opulence. — But it has been the mansion of a mighty poet. Its name is associated to glories that cannot perish — and will go down to posterity in one of tile proudest pages of our annals.
Our author is not often pathetic: But there are some touches of this sort in the account of his visit to Houghton — though the first part is flippant enough.
"The surprise the pictures gave me is again renewed. Accustomed for many years to see nothing but wretched daubs and varnished copies at auctions, I look at these as enchantment. My own description of them seems poor; but, shall I tell you truly, the majesty of Italian ideas almost sinks before the warm nature of Flemish colouring. Alas! don't I grow old? My young imagination was fired with Guido's ideas; must they be plump and prominent as to warm me now? Does great youth feel with poetic limbs, as well as see with poetic eyes? In one respect I am very young; I cannot satiate myself with looking: an incident contributed to make me feel this more strongly. A party arrived, just as I did, to see the house; a man, and three women in riding dresses, and they rode post through the apartments. I could not hurry before them fast enough; they were not so long in seeing for the first time, as I could have been in one room, to examine what I knew by heart. I remember formerly being often diverted with this kind of seers; they come — ask what such a room is called — in which Sir Robert lay — write it down — admire a lobster or a cabbage in a market piece — dispute whether the last room was green or purple — and then hurry to the inn for fear the fish should be over-dressed. How different my sensations! Not a picture here but recalls a history; not one but I remember in Downing-street or Chelsea, where queens and crowds admired them, — though seeing them as little as these travellers!"
There is some appearance of heart, too, in his account of Lady Waldegrave's sufferings on the death of her husband. She was a beautiful woman; and Walpole seems to have been really kind to her.
"I had not risen from table, when I received an express from Lady Betty Waldegrave, to tell me that a sudden change had happened; that they had given him James's powders, but that they feared it was too late; and that he probably would be dead before I could come to my niece, for whose sake she begged I would return immediately. I was indeed too late! Too late for every thing. — Late as it was given, the powder vomited him even in the agonies. Had I had power to direct, he should never have quitted James: — But these are vain regrets! — Vain to recollect how particularly kind he, who was kind to everybody, was to me! I found Lady Waldegrave at my brother's. She weeps without ceasing; and talks of his virtues and goodness to her in a manner that distracts one. My brother bears this mortification with more courage than I could have expected from his warm passions: but nothing struck me more than to see my rough savage Swiss, Louis, in tears as he opened my chaise. — I have a bitter scene to come. To-morrow morning I carry poor Lady Waldegrave to Strawberry. Her fall is great, from that adoration and attention that he paid her, — from that splendour of fortune, so much of which dies with him, and from that consideration which rebounded to her from the great deference which the world had for his character. Visions, perhaps. Yet who could expect that they would have passed away even before that fleeting thing, her beauty!"
This lady seems to have been afflicted nearly beyond the hope of consolation. Nevertheless, she married again. It is not a bad sign, we believe, when a widow sets in with a good wet grief: she has the better chance of a fine day. Philosophers assert, indeed, that it is possible for a woman to cry a sorrow clean out: — and we must confess, we have now and then heard f such things.
We must draw to a close now with our quotations — though we wish we had room for more. For the author is exceedingly amusing in his attempt at tracing his descent from Chaucer; — in his remarks on old and young kings, — in his practical and prospective speculations on gout in the feet and stomach, — and in his picture of himself, "with sweet peas stuck in his hair!" We should have liked, too, to extract a bon mot or two of George Selwyn, whose love of puns and executions was equally insatiable; but they stick too fast in the looser texture of his historian, to be disengaged with any moderate labour. The following little passage is very pleasingly written.
"For what are we taking Belleisle? — I rejoiced at the little loss we had on landing: For the glory, I leave it to the Common Council. I am very willing to leave London to them too, and do pass half the week at Strawberry, where my two passions, lilacs and nightingales, are in full bloom. I spent Sunday as if it were Apollo's birth-day; Gray and Mason were with me, and we listened to the nightingales till one o'clock in the morning. Gray has translated two noble incantations from the Lord knows who, a Danish Gray, who lived the Lord knows when. They are to be enchased in a history of English Bards, which Mason and he are writing, but of which the former has not written a word yet, and of which the latter, if he rides Pegasus at his usual foot pace, will finish the first page two years hence!"
We cannot understand the Editor's drift in leaving so many names unprinted. The respect for the living has been carried, we think, to a most awful extent: for names are continually left blank, which would visit their sins, if at all, upon the third or fourth generation. In many instances, too, the allusions are as plain as if the names had been written at full length. At p. 185, for example, we perceive a delicate attention of this sort to the family of Northumberland, — though few readers can be so respectfully uninformed as to be at all perplexed by the suppression. Chevy Chase has not left the Douglas and the Percy in such comfortable security. The mystical passage is as follows.
"Lady R— P— pushed her on the birth-night against a bench. The Dutchess of Grafton asked if it was true that Lady R— kicked her? 'Kick me, Madam! when did you ever hear of a P—y that took a kick?' I can tell you another anecdote of that house, that will not divert you less. Lord March making them a visit this summer at Alnwic Castle, my Lord received him at the gate and said, 'I believe, my Lord, this is the first time that ever a Douglas and a P—y met here in friendship.' Think of this from a Smithson to a true Douglas."
The beauty of the thing too, is, that Smithson (which alone, could give offence) is printed with all the letters — while Percy is delicately left in initials and finals.
There are some verses in the book, of which, out of regard to the author's memory, we shall say nothing. They are very apparently "by a person of quality." Pope, we think, written something like them under that signature — which rather takes from their originality. — But we now take our final leave of this lively volume, — with our usual protest against the enormous size into which this collection has been distended. Booksellers now-a-days only study how to construct large paper houses for their little families of letter-press, — and never think of the taxation to which they thus subject their readers. These Letters might have been comfortably accommodated in a comely little octavo, and sold at a reasonable price: Instead of which, they are put forth in a good stiff quarto, — and are, to use old Marall's phrase, "very chargeable." We hope soon to see them in a more accessible shape.