by Wilmarth S. Lewis
“The full title Walpole gave this 7000-word manuscript is, ‘Short Notes of the Life of Horatio Walpole youngest son of Sir Robert Walpole Earl of Orford and of Catherine Shorter, his first wife.’ He probably began writing it about 1746 and continued, off and on, until 1779. It begins: ‘I was born in Arlington Street near St James’s London Sept. 24, 1717, O.S. My godfathers were Charles Fitzroy Duke of Grafton, and my Uncle Horatio Walpole; my godmother, my Aunt, Dorothy Lady Viscountess Townshend. I was inoculated for the smallpox in 1724,’ an event reported in the London Journal of 10 October 1724, because it meant that the Prime Minister was endorsing the new practice.
“‘Short Notes’ was among the Walpole manuscripts sold by the sixth Earl Waldegrave’s executor in 1843 to the publisher, Richard Bentley (1794-1871). Most of it was printed rather apologetically for the first time in Bentley’s edition of Walpole’s letters to Horace Mann, 1844. The unknown editor deleted passages that give Walpole’s income, when he began and ended each year of his memoirs, a row with his Uncle Horace over money, how he got Lord Waldegrave to marry his niece Maria Walpole, and how he took care of his nephew Lord Orford during his fits of insanity. The full text was printed first in the Yale Walpole with 361 footnotes, some of them quite long. ‘Short Notes’ is the most important Walpole manuscript I know of.
“The story of how I got it begins with the start of the Yale Walpole in July 1933, when my wife and I went to Paris to learn from Seymour de Ricci how to find all the letters to and from Walpole in existence. De Ricci was the King of Provenance with 30,000 sale catalogues in his flat and a fabulous memory for owners, dealers, and auctions. My first question was, Where are William Cole’s letters to Walpole? because we had started with Walpole’s letters to him. De Ricci answered promptly that they had been bought at the Strawberry Hill Sale in 1842 by the publisher Henry Colburn and that I should get in touch with the grandson of his partner Richard Bentley of the same name who lived at The Mere, Upton, Slough, Bucks.
“Fortunately I followed his advice; fortunately, too, I kept Mr Bentley’s letters to me, and fortunately, for a third time, I was able to recover five of my letters to him when they were sold at Sotheby’s in 1975. They have refreshed and corrected my memory of one of the most helpful and delightful people I have ever met in Walpoleshire and show the importance of having both sides of a correspondence.”
Lewis goes on to chronicle his meetings and correspondence with Bentley and the search for the letters of key Walpole correspondents hidden away in Bentley’s home. He concludes:
“When we got to London in 1937 Robin Flower, Deputy Keeper of Manuscripts at the British Museum and one of the greatest early friends of the Yale Walpole, told me of the Walpole manuscripts that he found at Upton when he went down to appraise the library for tax purposes. The letters were not in libraries one to six, but in a remote passageway, a collection of Walpole’s manuscripts that corresponds in importance to the Boswelliana found in the croquet box at Malahide Castle. There were about a hundred unpublished letters, including those to John Chute, Walpole’s first history, The War with Spain, 1739, his Journal for 1769, the last memoirs from 1783-1791, Sir Robert Walpole’s last words, and many notes for the earlier memoirs written on scraps of paper. There were also Walpole’s Hieroglyphic Tales with two unprinted ones, ‘An abstract of the Kings and Queens of England,’ the draft for Walpole’s ‘Account of my Conduct relative to My Places,’ ‘The History of Madame du Barry, Mistress of Louis Quinze,’ and out-topping all in importance, the “Short Notes” of his life. Did Mr Bentley know they were there and was he waiting for me to pursue the quest at Upton further? That is not, I think, impossible. In any event, Mrs Bentley’s trustees let me have all the manuscripts, thanks to her friendly offices and those of John Hodgson, he who had knocked down to me in his sale room my first Walpole letters to Pinkerton; but the Upton saga was not finished. Peter Cunningham’s correspondence with the first Bentley about his edition of Walpole’s letters turned up and so did Miss Berry’s letters to Bentley about her books and much besides, all of which Mrs. Bentley gave me.
“Walpole’s letters to Mason are still missing; promising leads in Yorkshire and Wales came to nothing. I hope they may yet appear, but if I had to choose between them and the ‘Short Notes’ I would choose the ‘Short Notes’ without hesitation.”
Walpole, Horace. Short notes of the life of Horatio Walpole. 1746-1779.
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 1: Manuscript of “Short Notes of the Life of Horatio Walpole” download or expand the link here: