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Lord Orford Horace Walpole

(1717—1797) author, politician, and patron of the arts


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(fourth earl of Orford) (1717–97), fourth son of Sir Robert Walpole, travelled in France and Italy with Gray during 1739–41, and met in Florence Sir Horace Mann, who became one of his most valued correspondents. Walpole was MP successively for Callington, Castle Rising, and Lynn, 1741–67. In 1747, supported by various sinecures, he settled in Twickenham in the house he made known as Strawberry Hill: he made it into ‘a little Gothic castle’, aided by his fellow enthusiasts Chute and R. Bentley (the younger), collected in it articles of virtue, and in 1757 established there his own printing press. His first publication was Gray's Pindaric odes. In 1758 he printed several minor poems, essays, etc., as Fugitive Pieces in Verse and Prose, and in 1762 his Anecdotes of Painting in England. His Gothic novel The Castle of Otranto (1764) appeared at first pseudonymously, purporting to be a translation from an Italian work of 1529. In 1765 he paid the first of several visits to Paris, where he met Mme du Deffand, with whom he formed a lasting friendship; he was less enchanted (though not himself religious) with the prevailing atmosphere of rationalism and freethinking. In 1768 he published Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard the Third, in which he attempted to acquit Richard of the crimes imputed to him by history, and in the same year appeared his tragedy The Mysterious Mother. In 1787/8 he met the sisters Agnes and Mary Berry, who became intimate friends of his last years; in 1791 they settled at Little Strawberry Hill.

Walpole left his Memoirs ready for publication in a sealed chest, which was opened in 1818. Memoires of the Last Ten Years of the Reign of George II was edited by Lord Holland, 2 vols, 1822, and Memoirs of the Reign of King George the Third by D. Le Marchant, 4 vols, 1845. His literary reputation rests largely on his letters, which are remarkable for their charm, their wit, and their autobiographical, political, and social interest. His model was Mme de Sévigné, whose letters he greatly admired, and he clearly wrote for posterity as well as for his correspondents. His letters to Mme du Deffand were destroyed at his own wish; hers to him were edited by Mrs Paget Toynbee in 1912. Later editions of his correspondence, with recent biographies (e.g. R. W. Ketton‐Cremer, Horace Walpole, 1946) have done much to dispel the 19th‐cent. image of Walpole, inspired by Macaulay's famous attack in the Edinburgh Review, 1833, as a malicious and affected gossip, though even Macaulay had allowed that he possessed ‘irresistible charm’. His name has also been cleared of the accusation that he hastened Chatterton's suicide by his neglect.

Subjects: literature.


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Works by Lord Orford Horace Walpole