17. Choice 10: Walpole’s Copy of Anecdotes of Painting in England, 4 vols., Strawberry Hill 1762-71

17.Choice 10: Walpole’s Copy of Anecdotes of Painting in England, 4 vols., Strawberry Hill 1762-71

    Anecdotes of Painting title page

By Wilmarth S. Lewis

“This, the most ambitious of Walpole’s works, was based on forty notebooks compiled by George Vertue, the engraver and antiquary (1684-1756), with a view to writing the first history of painting in England. Walpole records in ‘Short Notes’ and the ‘Journal of the Printing Office’ that he bought Vertue’s notebooks and drawings from Vertue’s widow in 1758 for £100 and that in 1759 he ‘began to look over the notebooks in order to compose the lives of English painters.’ The result was Anecdotes of Painting in England, with some Account of the principal Artists; And incidental Notes on other Arts; Collected by the late Mr George Vertue; And now digested and published from his original MSS, by Mr Horace Walpole4 vols. 1762-71. ‘Mr’ was no longer ‘a Gothic abomination’ as it was in Choice 5.

“Walpole’s Preface states that owing to the paucity of native-born geniuses, England ‘has not a single volume to show on the works of its painters. This very circumstance may with reason prejudice the reader against a work, the chief business of which must be to celebrate the arts of a country which has produced so few good artists. This objection is so striking, that instead of calling it The Lives of English Painters, I have simply given it the title of Anecdotes of Painting in England. The indefatigable pains of Mr. Vertue left nothing unexplored that could illuminate his subject, and collaterally led him to many particularities that are at least amusing: I call them no more, nor would I advise any man, who is not fond of curious trifles to take the pains of turning over these leaves.’ Walpole brought his work down to the end of George II’s reign in 1760. He included ‘other arts,’ ‘Statuaries, Carvers, Architects, and Medallists,’ and closed with an ‘Essay on Modern Gardening.’

“Over thirty of Vertue’s notebooks have been printed verb. et lit. by the English Walpole Society from the originals, which are now mostly in the British Library. The originals show that Walpole’s description of them, ‘indigested’ and ‘unreadable,’ is charitable–‘chaotic’ and ‘illiterate’ would not be unjust. The Anecdotes show that Walpole was a superb editor who brought order and style out of Vertue’s incoherence.”

Lewis uses Rembrandt as an example and quotes from both Vertue’s notebooks and Walpole’s subsequent footnote appearing in the Anecdotes. 

Lewis continues, “Besides making Vertue’s notes readable, Walpole added much new material and closed the gaps in Vertue’s account. ‘From the reign of Henry III Mr Vertue could discover no records relating to the arts for several reigns,’ Walpole wrote. ‘I shall endeavour to fill this hiatus by producing an almost entire chronologic series of paintings from that time to Henry VII when Mr Vertue’s notes recommence,’ and he did so in twenty-one pages.

Anecdotes of Painting page 17 with added image and ms notes

“The first two volumes of the Anecdotes appeared in 1762, the third volume and Catalogue of Engravers in 1763; the fourth volume was printed in 1771, but was held up until 1780 because Walpole didn’t want to offend Hogarth’s widow by his strictures on the artist’s ‘Sigismonda.’ (We shall come to ‘Sigismonda’ and Mrs Hogarth in Choice 23.) All five volumes were reprinted in 1825 and 1849. I hope one day that the Lewis Walpole Library will publish another edition that will make clear the contributions of both Vertue and Walpole to their pioneer history of painting in England.”

Lewis discusses Walpole’s visits to and notes about country houses, his Aedes Walpolianae catalog of his father’s collection at Houghton, and his interest in art exhibitions. Lewis then recounts his own acquisition of Walpole’s copy of the first edition of the Anecdotes from the collection at Knowsley, his interactions with the Librarian there, and the many other Walpolian items he purchased at the sales of Lord Derby’s library.

ownership inscriptions -- HW and Knowsley

“The fourth volume of the Anecdotes ends, as I have said, with Walpole’s essay ‘On Modern Gardening.’ It is another pioneer work that was reprinted in 1975 for the tenth time. The Walpole Printing Office of Mount Vernon, New York, brought out an edition of it in 1931 for Young Books, Inc., of New York for which my wife wrote a bibliography and I wrote a Preface. I explained the appearance of the ‘Essay on Modern Gardening’ in the Anecdotes by quoting Pope’s dictum, ‘Gardening is painting.’ To Walpole and his contemporaries gardening was no longer formal beds of herbs or ‘giants, animals, coats of arms and mottoes in yew, box and holly,’ but a large-scale enterprise that dealt with landscape. Woods and rocks and water were needed to ‘improve the view’ and create the ‘romantic’ garden on a scale commensurate with the owner’s magnificence.

On Modern Gardening chapter

“Modern taste, Walpole pointed out, dawned with Charles Bridgman, George II’s gardener, whose innovations included the destruction of walls for boundaries and the substitution of sunken ditches ‘that the common people called “Ha! Ha’s!”‘ Bridgman was followed by William Kent who, Walpole wrote, was ‘painter enough to taste the charms of landscape. . . . He leaped the fence and saw that all nature was a garden.’ The influence of the painters, especially Claude, Gaspart Poussin, and Salvator Rosa, was strong. ‘If we have the seed of a Claude or Gaspar amongst us,’ Walpole wrote, ‘he must come forth. If wood, water, groves, alleys, glades, can inspire poet or painter, this is the country, this is the age to inspire them.’ Walpole’s patriotism extended to England’s rocks and rills.

“The Journal of the Printing Office records that in 1785 the Press began to print the translation by the duc de Nivernais of Walpole’s ‘Essay on Modern Gardening’ in an edition of 400 copies, half of which were sent to the duke.”

Lewis concludes his Choice 10 with a quote from a note of gratitude written by a Richmond neighbor of Walpole’s for the gift of a different copy of the Anecdotes. The note ends this flattering assessment of Walpole: “‘His natural talents, his cheerfullness, the sallies of his imagination, the liveliness of his manner, the unexpected impression on the ear of those who hear and listen to him, comes on, like a shooting star, or, like Uriel, gliding on a sun beam. I never met him, but with pleasure, and never left him but with regret.'”

Lewis, Wilmarth S. Rescuing Horace Walpole. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1978.

To see the full chapter from Rescuing Horace Walpole called Choice 10: Walpole’s Copy of Anecdotes of Painting in England, 4 vols., Strawberry Hill 1762-71 download or expand the link here:

N.B. The copy discussed in this blog post is call number 49 2519 at the Lewis Walpole Library. It is extra-illustrated and has Walpole’s manuscript notes. Hazen explains the late appearance of volume 4, published some eleven years after the Catalogue of Engravers: “This final volume had been planned at least as early as 1763, since the Direction to the binder in the Catalogue of Engravers reads: ‘This volume should not be lettered as the fourth, but as a detached piece; another volume of the Painters being intended, which will complete the work.'” (Allen T. Hazen, A Bibliography of the Strawberry Hill Press. Dawsons of Pall Mall, 1973. p. 63.)

16. Walpole’s copy of Thomas Pennant’s “Of London” (1790)

16. Walpole’s copy of Thomas Pennant’s Of London (1790)

Title page from Walpole's copy of Thomas Pennant's "Of London"

By Stephen Clarke, Independent Scholar

Thomas Pennant (1726-98) was a naturalist, a traveller, and a writer. In addition to managing his family estate at Downing, near Holywell in North Wales, he wrote extensively on zoology, topography, and antiquities. His British Zoology led to his being elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1767, while his travels in Britain resulted in his publishing two Tours of Scotland, and various accounts of his tours in England.

Walpole admired him, though he thought his works tended to be superficial, commenting that “he picks up his knowledge as he rides.” But he described him as honest and good-natured and even (“a credit to us antiquaries”) vivacious, and owned a number of his topographical works. One of these was a copy of Pennant’s Of London (1790), an anecdotal antiquarian tour of the capital. He wrote on the title page “With MSS. notes by Mr Horace Walpole,” and added some notes in ink to the text, but then provided seventeen further manuscript pages headed “Additional Notes,” which are bound in at the end of the book.

Some of the notes are purely factual, identifying names or supplying additional references, but mostly—particularly in the Additional Notes—they are anecdotal, supplementing Pennant’s text, providing information that might well otherwise have been lost. Walpole naturally expands factual information to anecdotal illustration, as in his note to Pennant’s mention of the vestments at Westminster Abbey: “three sumptuous copes are preserved in Westminster-abbey. I saw them worn by 3 Prebendaries at the funeral of George 2d. Some remain in a few other Cathedrals, as Durham &c.” Elsewhere, he provides stories that not merely illustrate the text, but provide historical background. For example, in discussing St James’s Park, Pennant mentions how King Charles II used to feed his ducks and play with his dogs amidst crowds of spectators. Walpole adds this story:

“He frequently conversed there very freely with a plain Country-Gentleman, of whom he one day inquired, what the people said of him. ‘why, answered the Gentleman, they say you waste half yr time sauntering here with yr hands in yr pockets.’ ‘well then, replied the King, the next time they say so, tell them, it is well I do, for if I did not keep my hands in my own pockets, I shoud have them in theirs.‘”

And Walpole adds this anecdote of longevity to Pennant’s account of Somerset House, in relation to the porter of Lady Henry Beauclerk:

“When his great Age was rumoured, many persons questioned him about ancient events, and particularly if he remembered the Revolution [1688]—he asked what that was? tho he had always lived in London—but having been at that time an underbutler in a private family not affected by the Change, it had not disturbed his laying the knives & forks for dinner, and he had not noticed the alteration of the Government.”

The pages of notes bound in at the end of the book are arranged by streets, and one of the pages is headed “Notices from my MSS. collections for anecdotes of the streets of London”, while the last two pages are devoted to London’s Clubs. These notes are not tied to Pennant’s text, but are used by Walpole to expand it. He records the ownership of houses and their histories, as of a property in Albemarle Street, “let to a Whig Club in 1764, called Wildman’s… After which it was as remarkable for a Club set up by Ladies of the first rank for both men & women & called, the Ladies Club, which tho grievously censured soon died of innocent insipidity”.

Page headed "Additional Notes," in manuscript from HW's copy of Pennant's Of London

An account headed “Cheapside” begins with a note of its displays of chintzes and oriental porcelain, but veers off to anecdotes of Queen Caroline visiting one of the India warehouses there, and then on to members of the Court attending theatrical events; and from there to the limited number of entertainments that ladies could attend unaccompanied, and then again on to Vauxhall and Ranelagh and London’s other pleasure gardens.

The interest of the notes lies in the way they fill out the historical record. Walpole aptly summarized his motive in annotation with this final note: “These slight notices may explain many passages in the poems & pamphlets of the Time, which without such a key might be very obscure or unintelligible; & to later times, if such trifling notes shoud happen to last, woud represent some striking manners of the Age.” But more than that, in their flow and variety and diversity they suggest something of Walpole as conversationalist, entertaining his company with an apparently boundless flow of anecdote.