Sunday, September 24, 2017

The thread of my observations

Today marks the tricentenary of the birth of Horace Walpole, the fourth Earl of Orford, and a remarkable man in many ways. He is remembered for reviving interest in Gothic architecture (with his Strawberry Hill House in Twickenham), for an innovative Gothic romance, for a wealth of historically important letters, as well as for his memoirs and journal. Of the latter, he said that it was ‘rather calculated for my own amusement than for posterity’ and that he liked ‘to keep up the thread of my observations’.

Horace was born on 24 September 1717 in London, the fourth son of Sir Robert Walpole who would go on to become Prime Minister in the 1720s and 1730s. He was educated at Eton and King’s College, Cambridge, before taking the Grand Tour with his friend Thomas Gray. On returning to England in 1741, he became a Member of Parliament, and remained one for over 25 years. He spent the first half of the 1740s with his father in London or at the family seat at Houghton, Norfolk, where a collection of paintings inspired some of his writing.

In 1747 (his father having died in 1745), Walpole moved to Strawberry Hill, a small house in Twickenham, which he rebuilt over the next 30 years in the style of a Gothic castle. Also at Strawberry Hill, he established a small press which published many of his own works and some of Gray’s poetry. Walpole, who never married, became the 4th Earl of Orford in 1791. Although he produced much writing of varied types, including the Gothic novel The Castle of Otranto, he is most famous for his collection of more than 3,000 letters, written with grace, wit and an acute sense of friendship, which are considered to provide an excellent survey of the history, manners and tastes of the age. He died in 1797. Further biographical information is available from Wikipedia, NNDB, The New World Encyclopedia or The Oxford Dictionary Of National Biography (log-in required). Also Walpole has appeared in at least four previous Diary Review articles: Violent, absurd and mad (about Lady Mary Coke); Cole visits Walpole (about William Cole); My only anxiety (about Mary Berry), and Touring the Lake District (about Thomas Gray).

Among his many legacies, Walpole left behind a variety of memoirs and quasi diaries. There are five notebook/journals written on trips to Paris between 1765 and 1775 that are held at Yale University Library. More important, though, are his political memoirs, published as Memoirs of the Reign of King George the Second (3 vols.), Memoirs of the Reign of King George the Third (4 vols.) and Journal of the Reign of King George the Third, from the year 1771 to 1783 (2 vols.). Although the first two titles are called ‘memoirs’, and the last title is called a ‘journal’ they are all similar in style: a detailed chronological account of the author’s public life, meetings and observations (much of it a record of debates in Parliament) along with an often wry commentary. The so-called ‘journal’ does appear in places more like a diary, with dated entries, but there is also much in the narrative which is undated and reads like memoir. All the volumes of the Memoirs and the Journal are freely available online at Internet Archive.

The following extracts come the first edition of the Journal as edited by John Doran and published in 1859 by Richard Bentley. First, though, here is part of Doran’s introduction to that work.

‘The “Journals”, or, as the writer himself called them, the “Last Journals of Horace Walpole”, now published for the first time, form a continuation of his “Memoirs of the Reign of King George III”, which work terminates with the year 1771. After that year the author continued his manuscript collections under this title of “Journals”. To describe these it is only necessary to quote Walpole’s own words. In the concluding paragraph of March, 1772, he says: “This Journal is rather calculated for my own amusement than for posterity. I like to keep up the thread of my observations: if they prove useful to anybody else I shall be glad; but I am not to answer for their imperfections, as I intend this Journal for no regular work.” From numerous passages in these volumes, it will be apparent that the Journalist wrote, in more or less full detail, after he had collected a series of brief notes; and frequently he added, under entries of an earlier date, details of circumstances in connection with those entries, but the occurrence of which belonged to a later period. [. . .]

Finally, Walpole came to regard his Diary as possessing uses for others rather than providing only amusement for himself. Towards the close of his remarks, dated February 27th, 1782, he says that he has “continued it so long merely to preserve certain passages less known and to aid future historians, not intending the journalist part for any other use.” After speaking modestly of himself, his powers, his opportunities, and the employment he had made of them, he concludes by intimating, with reference to further entries, that “they will be chiefly such as I can warrant the truth of, and are not likely to be found in narratives of men much less conversant with some of the principal actors.”

In such words does Walpole describe the chief object of a Journal, the publication of which he made over to a succeeding century. The title and the epigraphs on the title-page are his own, exactly as he left them, ready for the press. The latter serve as texts for a history, ten years of which included a period of the greatest peril which ever threatened our country. Walpole has detailed the daily intrigues, the defeats and triumphs, the alternate exultation and depression, the glory and the shame, of that critical and eventful epoch.’

9 February 1773
‘9th. Lord Howe presented to the House of Commons a petition from the captains in the navy, on half-pay, for a small addition. Lord Sandwich had been against it for fear of the precedent. Lord North had intended to take no part, and though he did, for the same reasons as Lord Sandwich, had neglected taking any precautions for having it rejected. Accordingly, as the sum required was inconsiderable, as the navy had made interest for it, and the army, liking the example, would not oppose it, but absented themselves, Lord North was beaten by 154 to 45. There were, however, circumstances in this defeat that looked suspicious, and as if there were some treachery in more places than one. The Duke of Grafton’s friends openly acted against Lord North: those of the other part of the Bedford squadron absented themselves, and were known to be envious of the minister’s power: but the most remarkable incident was, that Sir Gilbert Elliot (believed to be more trusted by the King than any man except LordMansfield, and yet who for two years had acted the part of discontent) was the warmest supporter of the petition. They who had most jealousy of the King and his cabal suspected that they meant to insinuate to the navy and army that his Majesty favoured their claim, and that the Minister’s economy alone withstood it.’

18 June 1774
‘On the 18th Lord North opened the Budget, and was, as usual, ministerially admired and spoke with much wit. He went into and denied Colonel Barre’s prosperous state of the finance of France, and then lamented the late pacific King and commended the new economic King, adding that it would be very unwise in us to provoke an economic king - a timidity, however prudent, very unbecoming the dignity of a British Parliament! His lamentation was so dolorous that Burke told him he had thought his Lordship was going to move an address of condolence. T. Townshend and Burke were severe on the apostacy of Cornwall and Meredith, and on an additional pension to the Deputy Paymaster of 500l. a year, when the poor clerks in the office could not obtain a small addition.’

24 July 1774
‘Lady Holland died of an internal cancer after many months of dreadful sufferings. For some weeks she had taken 500 and 60 drops of laudanum every day.’

29 August 1774
‘Died Thomas, the new Lord Lyttelton, who had surprised the world with the badness of his heart, and with the dazzling facility of his eloquence; and who had not had time to show whether his parts were sound and deep, nor whether the reformation he had but partially affected since his father’s death was sincere, or only the momentary effort of very marked ambition. Nothing had given it the colours of shame. The Bishops, whose prostitution he had defended, would no doubt have given him absolution.’

7 November 1774
‘On the 7th died suddenly Thomas Bradshaw, that low but useful tool of Administration. His vanity had carried him to great excesses of profusion, and, being overwhelmed with debts, he shot himself. The King gave his widow so great a pension as 500l. a year, and 300l. a year for the education of the children. The Duke of Athol was drowned in his own pond about the same time.’

22 November 1774
‘22nd, died that extraordinary man, Robert Lord Clive, aged fifty. His fatigues of body and mind had greatly impaired and broken his constitution. He was grown subject to violent disorders in his bowels on any emotion, and they often were attended by convulsion. He was at Bath, but being suddenly sent for to town by Varelst, one of his Indian accomplices, on what emergency was not known, he was seized with violent pains. Dr. Fothergill, his physician, gave him, as he had been wont to do, a dose of laudanum in the evening. It did not remove his anguish, and he demanded more laudanum. Some said Fothergill told him if he took more he would be dead in an hour; others, that more was administered. It is certain that he took more without or with the privity of the physician, and did die within the time mentioned: but he certainly cut his throat. So many recent suicides gave the more weight to the belief of this. He was in his forty-ninth year.’

28 May 1775
‘28th. Arrived a light sloop sent by the Americans from Salem, with an account of their having defeated the King’s troops. General Gage had sent a party to seize a magazine belonging to the provincials at Concord, which was guarded by militia of the province in arms. The regulars, about 1000, attacked the provincials, not half so many, who repulsed them, and the latter retired to Lexington. Gage sent another party under Lord Percy to support the former; he, finding himself likely to be attacked, sent for fresh orders, which were to retreat to Boston. The country came in to support the provincials, who lost about 50 men, and the regulars 150. The advice was immediately dispersed, while the Government remained without any intelligence. Stocks immediately fell. The provincials had behaved with the greatest conduct, coolness, and resolution. One circumstance spoke a thorough determination of resistance: the provincials had sent over affidavits of all that had passed, and a colonel of the militia had sworn in an affidavit that he had given his men order to fire on the King’s troops, if the latter attacked them. It was firmness, indeed, to swear to having been the first to begin what the Parliament had named rebellion. Thus was the civil war begun, and a victory the first fruits of it on the side of the Americans, whom Lord Sandwich had had the folly and rashness to proclaim cowards.’

The Diary Junction

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