32. Choice 20: Walpole’s Portfolio for His Historic Doubts of the Life and Reign of Richard III

Choice 20: Walpole’s Portfolio for His Historic Doubts of the Life and Reign of Richard III

by Wilmarth S. Lewis

photo of open portfolio with mss notes

“‘It occured to me,’ Walpole wrote in the Preface to his Historic Doubts, ‘that the picture of Richard the Third, as drawn by historians, was a character formed by prejudice and invention. I did not take Shakespeare’s tragedy for a genuine representation, but I did take the story of that reign for a tragedy of imagination. Many of the crimes imputed to Richard seemed improbable; and, what was stronger, contrary to his interest.’

“‘All I mean to show,’ Walpole began, ‘is that though [Richard] may have been as execrable as we are told he was, we have little or no reason to believe so. If the propensity of habit should still incline a single man to suppose that all he has rad of Richard is true, I beg no more, than that person would be so impartial as to own that he has little or no foundation for supposing so.

“‘I will state the list of the crimes charged on Richard; I will specify the authorities on which he was accused; I will give a faithful account of the historians by whom he was accused; and will then examine the circumstances of each crime and each evidence; and lastly, show that some of the crimes were contrary to Richard’s interest, and almost all inconsistent with probability or with dates, and some of them involved in material contradictions.

Supposed Crimes of Richard the Third

1st. His murder of Edward Prince of Wales, son of Henry the Sixth.
2nd. His murder of Henry the Sixth. 
3rd. The murder of his brother George Duke of Clarence.
4th. The execution of Rivers, Gray, and Vaughan.
5th. The execution of Lord Hastings.
6th. The murder of Edward the Fifth and his brother.
7th. The murder of his own queen. 

“To which may be added, as they are thrown into the list to blacken him, his intended match with his own niece Elizabeth, the penance of Jane Shore, and his own personal deformities.’

“Walpole became convinced as a young man that Richard had been maligned by the Lancastrian and Tudor historians who reported his reign; that is, Richard was an underdog and should be championed. When two eminent antiquarians called his attention to what they believed was the coronation roll, which showed that Edward V., far from having been murdered in the Tower by his uncle Richard, had walked at his coronation, Walpole determined to clear Richard of ‘the mob-stories’ that put him ‘on a level with Jack the giant-killer.’ In his Preface he waved away possible criticism: his attempt, he said, was ‘mere matter of curiosity and speculation’ of an idle man; he was ready to yield to better reasons, but not to ‘”declamation.”‘ Unfortunately, the coronation roll turned out to be a wardrobe account of no relevance. This was disappointing, but it didn’t weaken Walpole’s desire to defend Richard.”

Lewis describes a psychoanalytical theory as to why Walpole got so excited about Richard III and quoted from “a letter to a fellow-antiquary fifteen years after Historic Doubts appeared.

Give me leave in my own behalf to say, that if I am prejudiced, as
probably I am, it is against those historians, not for Richard III. I did
apprehend originally that I should be suspected of the latter, because
when one contests popular prejudices, one is supposed to run into the
contrary extreme. I do believe Richard was a very bad man—but I could
not think him a weak one, which he must have been, had he acted in the
absurd manner imputed to him. I am aware on the other side, that in
so dark and ferocious an age, both he and others may have acted very
differently, and ventured on many steps, that would be preposterous in
a more enlightened time—but then we ought to have very good evidence
of their having done so—and such evidence is very defective indeed.

manuscript page Memoranda from catalogue of Harleian MSS vol 1Walpole’s notes for the book are at Farmington. He kept them in the Glass Closet in a portfolio I am rescuing as this Choice. The 1842 Sale Catalogue called it ‘A portfolio containing original letters, deeds, extracts, etc. on the subject of the Historic Doubts on the Life of Richard III, written by Mr Walpole.’ It named some of his correspondents and added that the portfolio contained the proof sheets of the books’ first edition, but it failed to mention Walpole’s notes on the sources he used to write the book. Boone bought the lot for Lord Derby who put it into a linen case. The letters to Walpole about the book were those that Major Milner laid out around the billiard table for me at Knowsley in 1935. He didn’t show me the other manuscripts in the portfolio, but their significance would have been lost on one unfamiliar with the immense complexities of Richard’s story. Maggs bought the lot for me at Sotheby’s in the 1954 Derby Sale. The reviewer of the sale in the Times Literary Supplement singled out the proof sheets, the only Walpolian ones I know of except those for the second edition of the Royal and Noble Authors already mentioned, but Walpole made few corrections in them and they are less interesting that other pieces in the lot.

“The portfolio is now in a case worthier of its contents, but they have yet to be studied by a fifteenth-century specialist. His task will not be light, for Walpole jotted down his notes on slips of paper and left them in a general jumble. We’ll see the same casual confusion when we come to his memoirs. Her in the portfolio is a scrap of six by four inches with 46 miscellaneous notes crowded to the martins on both sides. Next is a small card with five notes, including ‘H[enry] 7 did not reverse his Queen’s Bastardy.’ A more extensive note quotes that the late Lord Bolingbroke as saying ‘that the Ambassadors of France and Venice who were present at Richard’s coronation wrote to their respective superiors that Richard was a handsome well made Prince.’ ‘By the favour of the Duchess of Choiseul,’ Walpole wrote, ‘I have had the Depot des affaires étrangères at Versailles carefully examined by the learned and ingenious Abbé Barthelemi, and with the same truth with which I have conducted this inquiry, I must declare that no such account is to be found among the state papers of the King of France. If I discover anything that makes against my own arguments, I shall declare it with the same impartiality. It is indifferent to me on which side the truth may come out, all my aim has been to lead to the discovery of it.’

“There are twelve and a half pages of manuscript references to the Harleian Manuscripts in the British Museum. Walpole listed them from his printed copy of the Catalogue, which came to Farmington from the Library of Congress by exchange. So we have, most happily, not only Walpole’s notes but his annotated source for them. The list of manuscripts has his characteristic crosses and dashes and an occasional ‘See it.'”

Lewis points to evidence that Walpole went to the Museum to view the Harleian Manuscripts.

“Dodsley published twelve hundred copies of Historic Doubts in 1768 and sold them so fast he began printing a second edition of one thousand copies the following day, a remarkable sale for the time. The book is a quarto with two illustrations by Vertue. The original of one of them, Richard and his Queen in its Walpolian frame, came to Farmington from Sotheby’s in 1936. When I got the catalogue of the sale the drawing stood out as a ‘must’ for me, but wat was it worth? This was twenty years before Walpoliana shot into the stratosphere and the limit of £100 that I gave Maggs seemed extravagant, but it proved to be ample, for the drawing was knocked down to us for £2, less than half of what Miss Burdette-Coutts gave for it in 1842. The surviving collectors of the thirties look back to that time as to a lost paradise.

Historic Doubts caused a furor in the learned world when it appeared, for it is a pioneer work that challenged the traditional picture of Richard as a figure of unmitigated evil. Gray and Cole stood loyally by: Gibbon praised Walpole highly, but shared Hume’s belief that Sir Thomas More’s account of Richard was closer to the truth than Walpole’s. Gibbon’s copy, which Walpole gave to him, is at Farmington, but has, alas, no notes. Among our other eighteen presentation copies are many to Walpole’s antiquarian friends whose notes and comments in their copies will be of interest to future editors of the work, which continues to be, and doubtless always will be, controversial.

Pen and ink line drawing of a king and queen shown full length

“One of the strongest dissidents in 1768 was Dean Jeremiah Milles, President of the Society of Antiquaries, of which Walpole was a member; another was the Rev. Robert Masters. He and Milles expressed their views in Archaeologia, the Society of Antiquaries annual volume, whereupon Walpole rather foolishly resigned from the Society. He printed a Reply to Dean Milles, in six copies only, one of which is at Farmington.”

Lewis recounts Walpole’s response to the criticisms and how he, Lewis, acquired Walpole’s own first twelve volumes of Archaeologia from the Oriental Institute at Luxor, Egypt.

“Therefore Walpole’s set of Archaeologia is not the runner-up kn this Choice, nor is his copy (one of six only) of the Historic Doubts that he printed at the Press in his 1770 Works, even though at the end of it he bound in the manuscript of ‘Postscript to My Historic Doubts, written in Febr. 1793’ that was published in his 1798 Works. The Postscript begins,

It is afflictive to have lived to find in an Age called not only civilized but enlightened, in this eighteenth century, that such horrors, such unparalleled crimes have been displayed on the most conspicuous Theatre in Europe, in Paris, the rival of Athens and Rome. . . . by a Royal Duke, who has actually surpassed all the guilt imputed to Richard the 3d: and who . . . will leave it impossible to any future writer, how ever disposed to candour, to entertain one historic doubt on the abominable actions of Philip Duke of Orleans.

     After long plotting the death of his Sovereign, a victim as holy as, and infinitely superior in sense and many virtues to Henry 6th, Orleans has dragged that sovereign to the block, and purchased his execution in public, as in public he voted for it.

page of manuscript writing in small neat hand  and some corrections“‘That sovereign’ provided the runner-up in this Choice. When Mme du Deffand received her copy of the book from Walpole she was extasiée, yet not as much as she wished to be because she had no English. She failed to find a translator and died twenty years before the first French translation appeared in 1800. Walpole did not live to see it either, and so missed what I think might have meant more to him than anything else in his life. This was the knowledge that he had indirectly eased the last weeks of the translator as he revised his manuscript while waiting for the mob to come and drag him away to the guillotine. For the first French translator of Historic Doubts of the Life and Reign of Richard III was Louis XVI, and his much worked over manuscript is now at Farmington.

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 20: Walpole’s Portfolio for His Historic Doubts of the Life and Reign of Richard III” download or expand the link here:

N.B. For more details about the French translation by Louis XVI, see blog post 10. Doutes Historiques sur la Vie et le Regne de Richard III

 

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27. Walpole’s X

27. Walpole’s X

by Sean Silver, Associate Professor, English Language and Literature, University of Michigan

I’d like to write a bit about the letter X—one X in particular, but also the shape of the letter in general. It’s not a popular letter. It is sort of stashed away at the end of the alphabet; we mostly use it when we mean to refuse something else. We say that we “X” or “cross” something out. We “exclude” it, “ex-“ being the Greek prefix for “out,” like exile, exit, or exotic. And we use X’s in this way. John Locke used to cancel pages of his manuscript notes with a large “X,” stretching its limbs from corner to corner. Pages so marked are obsolete, or have been copied elsewhere, thereby excluded from the current pages of his thought. As I look out the window of my hotel room, which happens to be on a busy street, I count no fewer than three x’s, instructing us not to smoke, not to litter, and not to park.

It isn’t that an X isn’t elegant, in its own way. Alexander Pope loved X’s—I mean syntactically or as a rhetorical choice rather than a letter. The Greek X is pronounced Chi. It has been used to abbreviate the name of the Son of God: Chi for Christ. (This also had the virtue of reminding us, ideogrammatically, of the Cross.) But it was also, in Pope’s moment, used to name a certain kind of poetic crossing, where ideas are made to reflect one another, or to cross on the page. So begins his Rape of the Lock with a sort of puzzle or question, almost brought to a paradox by the magic of the cross-like Chi:

Say what strange motive, Goddess! could compel
A well-bred lord t’ assault a gentle belle?
O say what stranger cause, yet unexplor’d,
Could make a gentle belle reject a lord?
In tasks so bold, can little men engage,
And in soft bosoms dwells such mighty rage?

 

You don’t have to squint too hard to see it. It is a kind of country-dance of ideas, a crossing or a passing on the page: the well-bred lord who assaults the gentle belle; the gentle belle who rejects the lord. If we were to put these lines on the chalkboard, which, in lectures to my undergraduates, I generally do, we draw the x that associates ideas, linking lord to lord, belle to belle. “We call this chiasmus,” I say, “for the Greek letter X”, then I spell “Chiasmus.” In case you didn’t see what Pope was up to, he does it again in the very next couplet. A bold task finds its echo in a mighty rage—which is tucked away in the opposite corner of the following line; “little men” are crossed with “soft bosoms,” in what seems to me to be a summary repetition of the chiastic pairing of lords and belles.  There is ideological work happening, here: a philosophical contrapposto or exchange.  Its figure is the letter X.

The thing about the X is that it is the simplest letter of two strokes: two bare lines made to cross. As a letter, it is almost unnecessary. Turkish, for instance, dispenses with it altogether; in Istanbul, you hail a Taksi. But as an ideogram, it seems to me to be indispensable, as a sign of emphasis or cancellation. A single line might be an accident; two lines, crossed, define a point and a plane. Something new, in short, happens when two lines are made to meet. This is precisely because it is the most primitive woven letter, where elements are not stacked, but crossed; it is for this reason that William Petty, in his Early Modern treatise on textiles, describes the crucial element of any woven good as the “little X’s” that are made on the loom. A single fiber: it might have tensile strength and possibly some other bare qualities. But with an X, other qualities begin to emerge, like elasticity, or softness. So, too, with the letter itself, which connects and complicates, or, in Petty’s moment, makes “complex.”

This brings me to a somewhat more prosaic, somewhat more tendentious chiasmus, which is suggested by a remark in an appendix in the Yale edition of Walpole’s Correspondence. The appendix refers to Horace Walpole’s letter to Horace Mann of 28 January, 1754. This letter, the editor writes, “inspired more inquiries [to the staff of the LWL] than all the other passages of the Walpolian correspondence put together.” This is a curiosity, but not a crossing; the other half of the chiasmus is this: Walpole, for this passage alone, remains among the most-cited eighteenth-century men of letters in publications on the sciences. People at the Walpole are hearing from science writers for a certain passage in Walpole’s letters; Walpole, for this passage alone, is appearing in their work as a representative of his age. What is more, the passage remains important because it, itself, names a kind of crossing; it gives a name to a species of transformative event, when we come across something we didn’t know we were looking for. It is the very passage where Walpole coins serendipity.

“Serendipity” is a word which is paradoxical in a special way that Walpole perfected. A serious word of deliberate lightness, it names moments where we find what we didn’t know we were looking for. Put more sharply: we go into the world looking for one thing, but, in the looking, find something that we could not have known to want before we started the search. It is transformative in a transformative way; we think that we are accumulating knowledge like a bag accumulates marbles or a book accumulates print: bag and book are untouched by the contact. But, in fact, we are learning learn in the way that a sculptor shapes clay, in which clay and sculptor undergo continuous change. In other words, it isn’t just that the discovery changes the search; it changes the searcher, for what we have found has transformed the way we imagine the world. This is what makes it chiastic, like a letter x. The transformation runs both directions.  “Serendipity,” therefore, names two things: we go out into the world, seeking one thing; the world, as compensation, transforms the seeker. This is the crucial crossing, the return route where the total project is altered by its accidental success.

Walpole christened “serendipity” in a 1754 letter penned to his longtime friend and correspondent Horace Mann, the British Minister of Florence. He was sending his thanks for a gift he had just received, a portrait of Bianca Cappello Walpole believed to have been painted by Vasari. It was in bespeaking a custom frame for the painting that Walpole made his discovery; the frame was to bear the arms of the Cappellos on one side, and the arms of the Medicis on the other, for the celebrated Bianca Cappello was the second wife of Francesco I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. “À propos,” Walpole writes, “in an old book of Venetian arms” (the very book which is now at the LWL[1]),

there are two coats of Capello, who from their name bear a hat, on one of them is added a flower-de-luce on a blue ball, which I am persuaded was given to the family by the Great Duke, in consideration of this alliance; the Medicis you know bore such a badge at the top of their own arms. This discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call Serendipity.[2]

page from "Le arme overo insegne di tutti li nobili della magnifica, & illustrisima cit à de Venetia, c'hora viuono" showing HW's mark at the Capello arms

Appearing on the same page of this book are two versions of the same coat of arms, two caps with blue balls, identical except for a tiny smudge of a fleur-de-lis in the second (and a typographical error, “Capello / Caepllo”). It is a question, in Walpole’s words, of “persuasion”: events and context have caused a detail, the merest blot of color, to bear rhetorical force, convincing him that he is witnessing the sign of a political union. Not quite satisfied with this story, Walpole adds a definition: serendipity is an “accidental sagacity,” for “no discovery of a thing you are looking for comes under this description.” It is, he suggests elsewhere, what you discover when you are “a la chasse of something very different” (31.325). Thus does “Capello’s portrait open,” writes James Lilley, “onto an interlocking, ever-expanding nexus of image, history, and text. It is as if each object in the [collection] ineluctably unfolds its own history, a history that is tied to other images, other places in the text.”[3] This perfectly captures, I think, the magic of serendipity as a fundamental principle of discovery, of where persons and things are made repeatedly to cross in an archive.

You might wonder why Walpole called this sort of discovery “serendipity,” rather than of some other, less whimsical word—and for that, any number of other studies exist, because Walpole tells us himself that the word comes from a Sherlock-Holmesian tale called “The Three Princes of Serendip.” Walpole fancied himself just such a seeker; his whimsy was, I suppose, the metric of his susceptibility to these sorts of transformative moments. It takes “sagacity” to witness a mere “accident,” but experience it as a transformative lesson.

I would like instead to wind up these remarks by sharing my own serendipitous discovery—which bears in a small way on the intellectual history of the concept itself. I had come to the Lewis Walpole Library as the Charles J. Cole Research Fellow in the summer of 2012.  My wife was six months pregnant, but we had decided to reserve this month so I could substantially complete research on the last couple of tricky objects for The Mind Is a Collection, a virtual museum of objects people used to model cognitive theories. Horace Walpole’s copy of his own play, The Mysterious Mother, was one of these objects. I was doing what you can do when you have the time, space, and resources for research: during the day, I was reading deeply in Walpole’s letters, and in the archives held at the LWL; at night, I was staying at the Root House, and reading broadly in the history of the fact, which is to say, the idea of facts, of “fact” as a concept which had to be learned. I was reading William Eamon’s Science and the Secrets of Nature, which traces a major part of this history. It was there that I ran across an early modern theory of knowledge-acquisition, in which we discover things by accident. It was commonly compared to a certain kind of hunt, but where we continually happened upon objects we didn’t know we were seeking. It is, Eamon suggested, a form of “accident”; it requires, (he suggests), “sagacity.”

To my ear, this was a clear echo of Walpole. The problem is, Eamon wasn’t quoting Walpole—he was quoting Francis Bacon, or, really, the standard translation of Bacon, which wasn’t made until nearly a century after Walpole’s coinage. How this precise formulation, how it was that Walpole, like Eamon, thought of discovery as “accident” crossing with “sagacity,” became one of the principle projects of the next year or so of my life—happily interrupted by the birth of a beautiful daughter. That story is now in print, and has become useful to people working on the serendipity concept—for it shows us some of the ideas Walpole himself was weaving together when he coined his term.

This drove me back to Walpole’s collection, and to his remarks on serendipity, as I put together the parts of what would become a piece on “The Prehistory of Serenidipity.”  But it also drove me to Walpole’s library, to the “old book of Venetian arms,” which against the odds, survived the teeth of time to find its way into Lewis’s collection of Walpole’s books. There, on page 12, are the coats of arms Walpole describes, and, in the margin, a little X, penned there to register the frisson of his discovery. This is of course the X which is the subject of these remarks. Walpole, with his joints not yet suffering from the gout that would cripple him late in life, held open that tightly bound little book, and placed a neat ideogram in the margin. You may still see it there. It is the first serendipitous discovery so-called. It reminds us that an X doesn’t just wipe things out. It also marks a spot: and not just a spot of special note, but a place where a transformation occurred, both in Walpole, but also in theories of discovery.


[1] Le arme overo insegne di tutti le nobili . . . di Venetia (Venice, 1578), p. 12, Lewis Walpole Library, Farmingham, Connecticut, call no. 49 2051. It’s probably worth pointing out at this point that Walpole commonly marked passages suggesting surprising discoveries with a marginal “x.” See, e.g., Walpole’s commonplace book, which he called his Book of Materials (1777), at the Lewis Walpole Library, pp. 6, 27, 29, etc.

[2] Walpole, Correspondence, Vol. 26, p. 307.

[3] James D. Lilley, “Studies in Uniquity: Horace Walpole’s Singular Collection,” ELH 80.1 (2013): 93-124, p. 119.

25. Choice 15: Walpole’s Transcripts of His Letters to Sir Horace Mann

25. Choice 15: Walpole’s Transcripts of His Letters to Sir Horace Mann

By Wilmarth S. Lewis

“The Mann correspondence is the great Andean range of the Walpolian continent, stretching from 1740 to Mann’s death in 1786. first letter from HW to Mann in first volumeEight hundred and forty-eight of the letters are from Walpole, eight hundred and eighty-seven from Mann, a total of 1735 letters. The manuscripts of nearly all are at Farmington.

“In my Introduction to these letters in the Yale Walpole I pointed out that ‘For sweep and variety and the procession of great events they are unrivalled in Walpole’s correspondence.‘ I might have gone further, I think, and said that they are unrivalled in those respects by any other correspondence of the time. Walpole was aware of their historic value. As early as 1744 he wrote Mann that being ‘entirely out of all the little circumstances of each other’s society, which are the soul of letters, we are forced to correspond as Guicciardini and Clarendon.’ Years later he exclaimed, ‘What scenes my letters to you have touched on for eight and thirty years!’; Conclusion to letter to Mann 18 Feb 1778

“and a few years later still, ‘A correspondence of near half a century is, I suppose, not to be paralleled in the annals of the Post Office!’ Towards the end he repeated that he was forced to write to posterity. ‘One cannot say, “I dined with such a person yesterday,” when the letter is to be a fortnight on the road–still less, when you know nothing of my Lord or Mr Such-an-one, whom I should mention.’ He had moments of realistic disillusion with us: ‘If our letters remain, posterity will read the catastrophes of St James’s and the Palace Pitti with equal indifference.’

“Walpole began getting his letters back in 1749 and thereafter they were brought him by friends every few years. He started transcribing them in 1754 to remove passages he didn’t want us to see, such as the account of his quarrel with Gray at Reggio and the strictures of his one-time intimate friend, Henry Fox. After a few years he let Kirgate do the copying, but resumed it for the last three years. The originals and copies were kept in separate houses and were left to different people. In a memorandum dated 21 March 1790 Walpole wrote: ‘I desire they will never suffer them to be transcribed or printed.’ This memorandum is one of the manuscripts Sir Wathen Waller and I found in the attic at Woodcote. It was sold in the second Waller Sale in 1947 and is now at Farmington.”

Lewis goes on to ponder why Walpole and Mann corresponded for so long and what became of the original letters before recounting his acquisition of the transcripts.

“Mrs Damer followed Walpole’s instructions about the ultimate disposition of the transcripts and turned them over to the Waldegrave family. The present Lord Waldegrave sold them to me in 1948. Lord Dover used them, not the originals, Red and gilt cover of bookfor his edition of Walpole’s letters to Mann, which was published by Bentley in 1833. The original worn bindings of the six volumes were removed and Paget Toynbee told me with pride that he got the ninth Earl Waldegrave to have the letters rebound in their present red morocco.

I would like, of course, to save all six volumes, but if the Collections of Letters from Horace Walpole manuscript title pagealmighty says ‘NO!’ I’ll rescue the first volume, which has 150 letters from 1741 to 1746 transcribed and annotated by Walpole throughout.

“That he had future readers of his letters in mind is clear from the Advertisement he prefixed to the first volume of the transcripts and by the epigraph he added to its title-page, ‘Posteris an aliqua cura, nescio! Plin. Epist.’ ‘Whether there will be any concern about us on the part of posterity I do now know.‘ Pliny, Letters. The late Professor Clarence Mendell of Yale kindly sent me a translation of Pliny’s letter to Tacitus in which the epigraph appears, pointing out that Walpole omitted nostri between cura and nescio. This epigraph is less confident than the other already quoted in Choice 4 from Cibber’s Apology. We can be certain, I think, of his satisfaction if he could have known that in the twentieth century his letters to and from Mann would be published in America in eleven substantial volumes with tens of thousands of footnotes and an index of over 100,000 entries to guide an ever-increasing number of delighted readers. The English friend who saw Walpole most clearly, ‘Gilly’ Williams, wrote to George Selwyn, ‘I can figure no being happier than Horry, Monstrari digito praetereuntium [to be pointed out by those passing by] has been his whole aim. For this he has wrote, printed, and built.’ For this he wrote and kept his letters.”

Manuscript of "Advertisement" in first Mann correspondence volume by Walpole          Manuscript of "Advertisement" page two in first Mann correspondence volume by Walpole

Lewis then quotes from Walpole’s Advertisement to the transcripts, which can be read in full in the online Yale Correspondence (vol. 17, p. 1-2).

“Mann’s letters to Walpole remained at Strawberry Hill until 1843 when they were acquired from Lord Waldegrave by Richard Bentley, the publisher whose grandson sold them to me with four of their original red morocco bindings from which the letters had been cut. Each volume still has a title-page in Walpole’s hand, ‘Letters/From Horatio Mann/Resident at Florence/From King George the Second/To/Horatio Walpole/youngest Son/of/Sir Robert Walpole/afterwards/Earl of Orford/’ and the numbers of the volumes. . . .

“Mann sent lavish presents to Walpole despite Walpole’s protests, Among them were the bronze bust of Caligula with silver eyes at the beginning of his madness, a small ebony trunk for perfumes with bas-reliefs in silver ‘by Benvenuto Cellini’ representing the Judgment of Paris, a marble head in alto relievo of John the Baptist ‘by Donatello,’ and a portrait ‘by Vasari’ of Bianca Cappello, mistress and wife of Francesco de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. This last particularly delighted Walpole. ‘The head,’ he wrote Mann,

“‘is painted equal to Titian, and though done, I suppose, after the clock had struck five and thirty, yet she retains a great share of beauty. I have bespoken a frame for her, with the grand ducal coronet at top, her story on a label at bottom, which Gray is to compose in Latin as short and expressive as Tacitus (one is lucky when one can bespeak and have executed such an inscription!) the Medici arms on one side, and the Capello’s on the other.'”

Lewis goes on to quote Walpole telling Mann about the arms and serendipity. For more on serendipity, see Sean Silver’s post elsewhere in this blog. Lewis then turns his attention to Thomas Patch.

“Mann is seen at Farmington through the eyes of Thomas Patch who spent the last twenty-seven years of his life at Florence painting visiting Englishmen and romantic landscapes for grand tourists. Our collection of him started in 1939 when William Randolph Hearst began selling his vast collections that were stored in two New York warehouses, each of which covered a city block. Perhaps a tenth of one percent of them was offered by Parish, Watson and Co. of 57th Street. When I asked them if Hearst had anything from Strawberry Hill they said they had no idea and invited me to come and see for myself. I wandered through six floors crowded with Spanish choir stalls, porphyry jars and Etruscan vases, French cabinets and English chests. I was ready to give up on the sixth floor, but my guide urged me on for one more, which was the attic. Against its walls leaned a fragment of a Tiepolo ceiling, a Messonier battle scene, and Frederick Remington cowboys. Among them was a large conversation piece with ‘Hogarth’ on its ample frame. Thanks to Francis Watson, the expert on Thomas Patch, I knew better. I was certain that the chief figure in the picture before me was Mann from its resemblance to a small portrait of him by John Astley that Mann sent Walpole and that was reproduced in Cunningham’s edition of Walpole’s letters. He was older in the Hearst picture, more rugose, but with the same broken nose and air of a capable

A gathering at the Casa Manetti, Florence, showing a group of men in eighteenth-century dress, by Thomas Patch

“esthete. The case for the figure being Mann was settled by his vice-regal chair with the royal crown and supporters. I urged my guide to send a photograph of it to Francis Watson at the Wallace Collection in London for his opinion and after Francis confirmed Patch as the artist a zero was chopped off the Hogarth price, and the remainder was divided by five, and the picture was the first of five Patches to come to Farmington. A year later Astley’s portrait of Mann emerged from hiding and arrived with the companion portrait of his twin brother Galfridus that Mann had also sent Walpole.

Portrait of Sir Horace Mann, eighteenth-century bewigged gentleman facing right, wearing a red coat                       Portrait of Galfridus Mann, eighteenth-century bewigged gentleman facing left, wearing a brown coat

“When ‘dear Gal’ died Walpole had Bentley design his tomb, the drawing for which is at Farmington.

“Mann appears in two other Patches at Farmington, the very large conversation piece that we shall come to in our Print Room and another that was painted for Lord Beauchamp, Lord Hertford’s heir and Walpole’s first cousin once removed. Walpole saw and admired the picture.

A party at Sir Horace Mann's in Florence showing a group of men in eighteenth-century dress

“Mann is seated at the right listening to a comical Dutch singer whom he is trying out for one of his musical entertainments. The Dutchman is singing eagerly while Patch himself bursts into the room from the left bowed under a basket filled with the Vocabulario della Crusca and distracting nearly all of the auditors. Beauchamp, very tall and elegant in the center of the picture, has turned to regard the disturbance with amused superiority. We shall come to the fourth Patch at Farmington when we get to Henry Bunbury and Hogarth. A fifth one is a riverscape that I got to show the sort of thing Patch painted for the Grand Tourist trade.

Landscape showing a bridge and tower with blue mountains in the distance, painted by Thomas Patch

“An ancient round tower looms beyond a bridge over which peasants and an ox-cart are passing; a shepherd and his modest flock are resting on the bank; in the distance are blue mountains. It is a scene to bring back smiling Italy to northern travellers at home. Walpole asked Mann to send him two Patches of the Arno and Florence, which he kept in his town house and bequeathed to his great-nephew, Lord Cholmondeley at Houghton, where they still are, a lovely pair. Title page from Fra Bartolommeo by Thomas PatchOne marvels at Patch’s versatility, for he was also an engraver, the author of a sumptuous folio with twenty-six engravings after Masaccio that he dedicated to Mann and of twenty-four prints after Fra Bartolommeo that he ‘dedicated to the Honourable HORACE WALPOLE, an intelligent promoter of the Arts,’ an honor no doubt inspired by Mann.

“It is pleasant to have the two friends brought together in this way by Patch, whose pictures, like Mann’s letters to Walpole are now held in higher esteem than ever before.

“When on 15 July 1777 Walpole asked Mann to return his letters, he added, ‘I should like to have them all together, for they are a kind of history.’ readers of the Memoirs will be especially grateful to them because they add ‘the touches of nature’ that the Memoirs lack.”

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

To see the full chapter from Rescuing Horace Walpole called  25. Choice 15: Walpole’s Transcripts of His Letters to Sir Horace Mann” download or expand the link here:

N.B. The project files for the editorial work on the Mann letters that was undertaken for The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence are in the Lewis Walpole Library’s archives and have been rehoused this summer. files from the Mann volumes of the "Yale Edition" project    contents of one box of files from the Mann volumes of the "Yale Edition" project

24. Choice 14: Walpole’s Chattertoniana

24. Choice 14: Walpole’s Chattertoniana

by Wilmarth S. Lewis

“Coming back on the Olympic in 1925, I met Dr Edward Clark Streeter, to whom I later dedicated my Collector’s Progress. He had been at Yale twenty years ahead of me, had formed a fine library of medical history, and was then making his notable collection of weights. After I held forth on Walpole he looked at me quizzically and asked, ‘But what about the Marvellous Boy?’ He was quoting Wordsworth,

“‘Chatterton, the marvellous boy,
“The sleepless soul that perished in his pride.’

“This was the youthful genius, Thomas Chatterton, who committed suicide in his eighteenth year, a victim of opium as well as of pride and whose brief life fills twenty columns in the Dictionary of National Biography, as compared to Boswell’s sixteen and Walpole’s eleven. While we walked the decks of the Olympic I explained to Ned Streeter that I couldn’t collect Walpole if I wasn’t convinced he was innocent of Chatterton’s death and Ned accepted his innocence when I finished.

“The Choice in this chapter is Walpole’s collection in four volumes of sixteen pieces dealing with Chatterton. To appreciate them one must know the boy’s story and how he, a precocious adolescent in Bristol, the son of a poor schoolmaster, secured a special place in English literature.

“In 1776 Chatterton, aged sixteen, sent Walpole ‘The Ryse of Peyncteynge yn Englande, wrote bie T. Rowleie, 1469, for Mastre Canynge.’ Rowley was a fifteenth-century monk of Bristol invented by Chatterton who allegedly composed a treatise on ‘peyncteynge,’ that might, Chatterton wrote Walpole, be ‘of service to you in any future edition of your truly entertaining Anecdotes of Painting.’ He added ten explanatory notes to ‘The Ryse of Peyncteynge.’ The first of them was on Rowley whose ‘Merit as a biographer, historiographer, is great, as a poet still greater . . . and the person under whose patronage [his pieces] may appear to the world, will lay the Englishman, the antiquary, and the poet under an eternal obligation.’ This was a hook well baited for Horace Walpole who sent Chatterton ‘a thousand thanks’ for his ‘very curious and kind letter’ and went so far as to say he would ‘not be sorry to print’ a specimen of Rowley’s poems. What pleased Walpole most in Chatterton’s letter was the confirmation of the conjecture in Anecdotes of Painting that ‘oil painting was known here much earlier than had been supposed, ‘ but before long Walpole began to suspect, with the aid of Mason and Gray, that the examples of the fifteenth-century manuscripts that Chatterton had sent him were forgeries.

page from Chatterton's poems with Walpole manuscript note

 

“It was odd that Rowley wrote in eighteenth-century rhymed couplets.

“Meanwhile, Chatterton disclosed to Walpole his age and the condition in life. The letter in which he did so has been almost entirely cut away. Walpole’s recollection of it nine years later was that Chatterton described himself in it as ‘a clerk or apprentice to an attorney, [that he] had a taste and turn for more elegant studies,’ and hoped Walpole would assist him with his ‘interest in emerging out of so dull a profession,’ The learned antiquary turned out to be an ambitious youth. Walpole sent him an avuncular letter to which Chatterton returned, according to Walpole, ‘a rather peevish answer’ in which he said ‘he could not contest with a person of my learning (a compliment by not means  due to me, and which I certainly had not assumed, having consulted abler judges), maintained the genuineness of the poems and demanded to have them returned, as they were the property of another gentleman. . . .’

     When I received this letter, I was going to Paris in a day or two, and either forgot his request of the poems, or perhaps not having time to have them copied, deferred complying till my return, which was to be in six weeks. . . .
      Soon after my return from France, I received another letter from Chatterton, the style of which was singularly impertinent. He demanded his poems roughly; and added, that I should not have dared to use him so ill, if he had not acquainted me with the narrowness of his circumstances.
     My heart did not accuse me of insolence to him. I wrote an answer expostulating with him on his injustice, and renewing good advice–but upon second thoughts, reflecting that so wrong-headed a young man, of whom I knew nothing, and whom I had never seen, might be absurd enough to print my letter, I flung it into the fire; and wrapping up both his poems and letters, without taking a copy of either, for which I am now sorry, I returned all to him, and thought no more of him or them, till about a year and half after, when [a gap in all printed versions].
     Dining at the Royal Academy, Dr Goldsmith drew the attention of the company with an account of a marvellous treasure of ancient poems lately discovered at Bristol, and expressed enthusiastic belief in them, for which he was laughed at by Dr Johnson, who was present. I soon found this was the trouvaille of my friend Chatterton; and I told Dr Goldsmith that this novelty was none to me, who might, if I had pleased, have had the honour of ushering the great discovery to the learned world. You may imagine, Sir, we did not at all agree in the measure of our faith; but though his credulity diverted me, my mirth was soon dashed, for on asking about Chatterton, he told me he had been in London, and had destroyed himself. I heartily wished then that I had been the dupe of all the poor young man had written to me, for who would not have his understanding imposed on to save a fellow being from the utmost wretchedness, despair and suicide!—and a poor young man not eighteen—and of such miraculous talents—for, dear Sir, if I wanted credulity on one hand, it is ample on the other.

“Seven years after Chatterton’s death an article on him in the Monthly Review for April 1777 stated that he had applied to Walpole, but ‘met with no encouragement from that learned and ingenious gentleman, who suspected his veracity.’ A month later in the same magazine George Catcott of Bristol went a step further. Chatterton, said Catcott, ‘Applied . . . to that learned antiquary, Mr Horace Walpole, but met with little or no encouragement from him; soon after which, in a fit of despair, as it is supposed, he put an end to his unhappy life.’ ‘This,’ comments E. H. W. Meyerstein, in his Life of Chatterton, 1930, ‘was a perfectly monstrous accusation, considering that Walpole never saw Chatterton, whose application to him was made over a year before he came to London and seventeen months before his death.’ The accusation was repeated a year later by the editor of Chatterton’s Miscellanies in Prose and Verse. These statements fastened the responsibility for Chatterton’s death on Walpole in many minds. . . .

“In 1933 I found out that sixteen pieces of Walpole’s collection of Chattertoniana bound in four volumes were in the Mercantile Library in New York; a seventeenth piece was (and is) in the British Museum. The Mercantile Library, a lending library of contemporary books, acquired the four volumes in 1868. I of course hurried to see them. Only the first volume was in its Strawberry covers with Walpole’s arms on the sides, but all the pieces had his notes and formed a major Walpolian recovery.

Manuscript title page for vol 1 of Chattertoniana                                               Title page to first item in Walpole's Chattertoniana

“The first volume has a title page written by Walpole on a fly-leaf: ‘Collection/of/Pieces/relating to/Rowley/and/Chatterton;/containing,/the supposed poems/of Rowley; the acknowledged works/of/Chatterton; by/Mr Walpole himself./’ The first piece is ‘Poems, supposed to have been written at Bristol by Thomas Rowley, and others in the fifteenth century The Greatest Part Now First Published From the Most Authentic Copies, with An Engraved Specimen of One of The MSS to Which are added A Preface An Introductory Account of The Several Pieces and A Glossary,’  1777. . . .The second piece in this volume is Miscellanies in Prose and Verse; by Thomas Chatterton, the supposed author of the poems published under the names of Rowley, Canning, etc. . . . The third piece in the first volume is Walpole’s Letter to the Editor of the Miscellanies of Thomas Chatterton, Strawberry Hill, 1779.

Print and newspaper letter in vol 1 of Walpole's Chattertoniana                Title page to first item in Walpole's Chattertoniana

After ‘Letter’ he wrote ‘From Mr Horace Walpole.’ He made a dozen annotations in ink, and pasted the relevant newspaper cuttings and a romantic view of ‘Monument to the Memory of Chatterton.’ If the Almighty allows me to rescue only one of the four volumes this is the one I shall choose without hesitation. . . .

A page from the MSS and letters that belonged to Thomas Tyrwhitt                  Chatterton manuscript poem Happiness in Tyrwhitt ms vol

“The runner-up in this Choice is a collection of manuscripts and letters that belonged to Thomas Tyrwhitt. Among them are six pages in Chatterton’s hand, including his poem ‘Happiness’ and several drawings and inscriptions inspired by the documents and monuments in St Mary Redcliff, Bristol. ‘Happiness’ concludes:

Content is happiness, as sages say-
But what’s content? The trifle of a day.
Then, friend let inclination be thy guide,
Nor be by superstition led aside.
The saint and sinner, fool and wise attain
An equal share of easiness and pain.

“Chatterton’s handwriting is so mature it is easy to see why it was mistaken for that of an older man. As his manuscripts are chiefly in the British Museum and the Bristol Library, we are fortunate at Farmington to have these pages that bring us into the most vexed chapter of Walpole’s life.”

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

To see the full chapter from Rescuing Horace Walpole called  24. Choice 14: Walpole’s Chattertoniana” download or expand the link here:

21. Choice 12: Walpole’s Copy of Lysons, “Environs of London,” 1792-96

21. Choice 12: Walpole’s Copy of Lysons, Environs of London, 1792-96

By Wilmarth S. Lewis

“Fortunately, I realized from the first that I should collect the books Walpole owned as well as those he wrote and printed. I knew nothing about his library, but I knew that every library is a projection of the person who makes it. I also liked handling and reading the books that Walpole cared enough about to buy and annotate as he had annotated the first of his books that I saw. It was Lord Baltimore’s Coelestes et Inferi, Venice, 1771, not a tale which holdeth children from play and old men from the chimney corner. It was with the Strawberry Hill detached pieces at Scribner’s that started my collection in 1924 and has Walpole’s note on the half-title ‘It is very questionable, whether the original Work of which the following is called a republication ever existed. At least such a poem is utterly unknown in England; nor is any book written by the last Lord Baltimore known, but a silly account of his Travels in prose, H.W.’ I wanted it, but felt that its price, $350, was beyond me. Happily, it reappeared at Sotheby’s in 1938 and was bought by Maggs for me at £12. The Depression had its compensations for collectors.

“The first book I bought from Walpole’s library came to me in December 1924 from Gabriel Wells. It is a strong candidate for this Choice, but I am making it Choice 13 for reasons I explain there. The book is an octavo in calf with Walpole’s arms on the sides. The elegant spine reads ‘Poems of Geo. 3.’ Walpole wrote on the inside of the front cover, ‘List of pieces in this volume

Rodondo, in two Cantos
Patriotism, a Mock Heroic
Bettenham’s Poems
The New Bath Guide.’

and added the authors’ names on the title-pages, ‘Mr. Dalrymple,’ ‘Richard Bentley,’ ‘Mr Christopher Anstey.’ On the title of Bentley’s Patriotism he added below the year 1765, ‘March 19th.’ In 1924 I didn’t know how important Bentley was in Walpole’s life, and that by 1765 they had parted company, but I enjoyed one of Walpole’s marginal notes, ‘Ld Wilmington said the D. of Newcastle lost an hour every morning and ran after it the rest of the day.’ When I re-read this now after more than half a century there return the witty Lord Wilmington, the fussy Duke of Newcastle, and Horace Walpole recording Wilmington’s bon mot for me.

Library at Strawberry Hill drawing by Edward Edwards

Horace Walpole’s library, showing the arrangement of books.

“He could afford to buy whatever he wanted. Space was no problem for him; when he ran out of it he built another room. His was not a large collection of books by country house standards, only some 7200 volumes as compared with Topham Beauclerk’s 30,000, but Walpole bought his books to read, as his letters and his marginalia in perhaps a third of them show. The first books we hear of, which he asked his Mama to get for him at the age of eight, are ‘the yearl of assax’ and ‘Jan Shore.'”

Lewis continues with a description of Walpole’s collecting and his own introduction to and growing knowledge of Walpole’s library, its arrangement, markings, and disposition. He recounts the origin of the Catalogue of Horace Walpole’s Library by Allen Hazen and relates an anecdote about lecturing at Cambridge. Lewis’s attention turns at last to the choice itself, but not before including a passage on Alexander Pope.

“The book I am rescuing from Strawberry Hill is Lysons, Environs of London, 4 vols., 4to, 1792-96. I considered seriously saving Pope’s copy of Homer’s Works, Amsterdam, 1707, in which Pope wrote his name three times and gave the date when he finished his translation of Homer; he also drew Twickenham Church from his garden on a fly-leaf. . . .The library has many other candidates for rescue, but I think Walpole would be pleased by my saving Lysons because he loved the histories of counties, towns, cathedrals, and great houses. ‘I am sorry I have such predilection for histories of particular counties and towns,’ he wrote in 1780, ‘there certainly does not exist a worse class of reading.’ Some years earlier he said, ‘I do not see why books of antiquities should not be made as amusing as writings on any other subject,’ and he went on collecting, annotating, and writing about them until he died.

Cover of Lyson's Environs of London owned by Walpole             

“The Environs of London was dedicated to him. He extra-illustrated and bound the four royal quartos handsomely in red morocco.

First page of Walpole's manuscript notes from volume 1

“Into each of the first three volumes he pasted four pages of ‘notes on Mr Lysons’ Environs.’ His first note tells us: ‘This work is one of the most authentic books of antiquities ever published, the Author having with indefatigable Industry personally visited every Parish and every Office of Record from which the extracts were made; and having by the amiableness of his Character been favoured by the Possessors with the sight of many original Deeds, that State the Tenures and Descents of several considerable Mansions and lands described in the Account.’ Lysons displeased Walpole in the chapter on Twickenham by mentioning several of Strawberry’s chief treasures. ‘I must tell you,’ Walpole wrote him, ‘that as I foresaw, they are a source of grievance to me, by specifying so many articles of my collection, and several that are never shown to miscellaneous customers. Nay, last week one company brought the volume with them, and besides wanting to see various invisible particulars, it made them loiter so long by referring to your text, that I thought the housekeeper with her own additional clack, would never have rid the house of them.’ This was a little hard on Lysons because most of his account of Strawberry came from the Description, but Walpole’s defense would doubtless have been that he kept nearly all copies of it out of public hands.

title page from volume 1 of Walpole's copy of Lyson's Environs of London“Lysons appears on the title-page of the Environs of London as ‘Chaplain to the Right Honourable the Earl of Orford,’ an instance of peers still having ‘domestick’ chaplains. Earls were entitled to four, but Walpole seems to be content with two. The warrant of his second, Benjamin Suckling, issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Office of Faculties, is at Farmington, signed ‘Orford,’ with Kirgate’s signature as a witness. Private Chaplaincies were handed out by peers to help youthful clergymen gain higher preferment. Lysons was an agreeable young antiquary and so a congenial appendage to Walpole’s life. His Environs has a special place in my library because it was given to me by my wife on the day we became engaged.

“The runner-up to Lysons in this Choice is ‘Arms of the Knights of the Garter,’ which Walpole shelved in the Glass Closet. It was blazoned on vellum for Queen Elizabeth in 1573 by Sir Gilbert Dethick, Garter-King-of-Arms, and bound in red velvet. Later the monogram of Charles I was stamped on the rear cover. The book belonged in the eighteenth century to Walter Robertson, Mayor of King’s Lynn, for which Walpole sat at the end of his parliamentary career. Below Robertson’s signature Walpole wrote, ‘This book was given to me by Mr Walter Robertson Mayor of Lynn, 1762, Horace Walpole.”

After a paragraph on the Glass Closet books Lewis concludes the chapter thus:

“A third of the books that were at Strawberry Hill are still missing. Eighty percent of those recovered, some 2414 titles, are at Farmington. In the thirties and forties I got one (and a letter to or from Walpole) on the average of one every four or five days; now I do well to get four or five a year. Since their market value has increased enormously it is odd more don’t appear. We know, as I have said, that some of the books were destroyed by booksellers, but hundreds more have lost their identities through rebinding and are sitting unrecognized on learned shelves. Until quite recently most librarians lacked Walpole’s regard for provenance and discarded the bookplates and marks of earlier ownership when rebacking and rebinding their books. One of Allen Hazen’s students found over forty of Walpole’s books in the British Library that had not been identified as his. Lars Troide, a young colleague in the Yale Walpole, found the first volume of Walpole’s copy of Egerton Brydges’ Topographical Miscellanies, 1792, in the Yale stacks. It was rebound after 1842. Walpole’s bookplate and Strawberry Hill pressmarks were discarded, but his annotations brought it swiftly to Farmington in accordance with the generous practice begun by Andrew Keogh, the Yale Librarian, forty years earlier.

“Walpole wrote his memoirs and letters in the library, the walls of which were lined from floor to ceiling with books. His copies at Farmington are shelved in the same order as at Strawberry. In our North Library Press A is on the right of the door as you face it from the inside; Press M is to the left, with the books from the Round Tower and Offices between it and the door. Over the door is a water-color of the main library flanked by drawings of the river and garden. Near the books formerly in the Glass Closet and Press E is a drawing of Walpole showing him seated by them. Few are insensitive to his presence as they stand amidst his books.”

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 12: Walpole’s Copy of Lysons, Environs of London, 1792-96, download or expand the link here:

N.B. The Lewis Walpole Library continues to acquire books and manuscripts from Walpole’s library. While the north library Lewis describes is now the exhibition gallery, Walpole’s books are still arranged in the same order as at Strawberry, only now they reside in secure, climate-controlled stacks.

20. Horace Walpole’s annotated copy of “A Catalogue of the Portland Museum”

20. Horace Walpole’s annotated copy of A Catalogue of the Portland Museum

By Madeleine Pelling, Travel Grant Recipient, PhD Candidate, History of Art Department, University of York

 

In 1786, Horace Walpole attended a vast, thirty eight-day auction that dismantled the collection of the recently deceased Margaret Cavendish Bentinck, duchess of Portland (1715-1785). Over a lifetime of voracious collecting, the duchess had assembled a largely unrivalled collection of natural history specimens alongside art works and antiquities, including the now famous Portland Vase. Walpole’s surviving and heavily-annotated copy of the accompanying sale catalogue, titled A Catalogue of the Portland Museum, reveals a fascinating insight into Walpole’s experiences of a sale that saw one of the most significant collections of the eighteenth century dismantled forever. Formed of a twenty-six centimetre quarto, with title page, frontispiece, preface and instructions for the conditions of sale, the catalogue contained the descriptions of over four thousand lots. It was available for purchase at the site of the exhibition, as well as at the auctioneer Thomas Skinner’s offices in Aldersgate Street, London. Each copy was given a unique number upon printing, adding to the culture of exclusivity being cultivated by Skinner both prior to and during the auction. Portable, the text could be carried around by its purchaser and displayed on their person; it marked participation in a closed and fashionable community that was swiftly building around the sale and reflective of the wider relationship between consumerism and sociability.

The duchess of Portland was a member of the group of intellectual and creative women known collectively as the Bluestockings. However, unlike so many of her contemporaries like Elizabeth Montagu, Anna Barbauld, Hannah Moore or Elizabeth Carter, her activities were, during her lifetime, rarely reported in the public sphere, her portrait rarely circulated and her curatorial activities confined to a closed circle of elite friends.[1] Following her death, the main portion of her museum was removed from her home at Bulstrode Park in Buckinghamshire to London and repositioned within the urban marketplace where fictionalised narratives of her celebrity, cultivated post-mortem, helped drive the commercial success of its auction. Gossip grew in the weeks preceding the sale, which began on 24 April 1786. Topics of both public and private speculation including the reasons for the auction itself, what would be sold there, and who would buy what. As Beth Fowkes Tobin has previously revealed, “When the news soon spread that all would be sold at auction, rumors circulated about her having bankrupted herself purchasing natural history specimens and objets d’art and the need for an auction to refill the ducal coffers.”[2] In a letter to his friend Lady Ossory, Walpole captured the tone of uncertainty, as well as the wider public interest in the fate of the collection in the days after the duchess’s death;

Mr Horace Walpole (not myself) called on me yesterday morning, when no will of the Duchess of Portland has been found. He thinks the bulk of the collection will be sold, but that the Duke[3] will reserve the principal curiosities – I hope so, for I should long for some of them, and am become too poor to afford them.[4]

It was within this context that the duchess’s identity as a private collector and curator, extinguished by her death, was subsequently reinvented, positioning her instead as a curiosity to be bought and sold. As Cynthia Wall has suggested, “the first fiction of an auction is often about what is (or is not) really there; the second is about what might (or might not) be acquired.”[5] At auction, narratives of death went hand in hand with those of celebrity and desirability. Increasingly, auctions were inevitably associated with the undertaking trade.[6] Furthermore, auctioneers often doubled as cabinet and coffin makers, with their cabinets housing the goods of the dead and their coffins, the bodies; suggesting a physical as well as economic connection between death and the auction. Skinner’s trade card, made in the earlier stages of his career prior to 1786, advertises his skills as a “Sworn Appraiser Who Buys and Sells all sorts of Houshold [sic] Goods. Also Cabinet Maker & Undertaker…N. B. Coffins & Shrouds Ready Made”, revealing that he too dealt in the complex administration of both the belongings and bodies of the dead.

Image of Thomas Skinner’s Trade Card, date unknown.

Fig. 1 Thomas Skinner’s Trade Card, date unknown. Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

Coinciding with the increase in shopping as habitual Georgian behavior, was the explosion in the production and availability in print media; at the auction, these two aspects of urban life combined in the form of the catalogue to drive profit and reposition previously private property as public inheritance. The sale, which was preceded by a public exhibition, took place in the duchess’s townhouse in Privy Gardens, Whitehall and was widely reported in daily newspapers and periodicals alike. As early as  11 February 1786, the Morning Post intrigued its readers with promises of a “most copious and splendid collection” which, the paper touted, contained amongst its legions of specimens “insects”, “corallines”, “petrifactions”, “snuff boxes”, “pictures and prints”, “old china” and Greek and Roman sculptures including the head of Jupiter Serapis and the widely celebrated Barberini, later Portland, vase.[7] The sale text functioned as a point of contact between the duchess post-death and a culturally literate consumer community; one whose perceptions of celebrity and buying habits were informed by the catalogue and other printed ephemera associated with the sale. The sociability and adaptability of the catalogue, which was subjected to processes of marginal annotation and extra-illustration, enabled the creation of a fiction that proposed the duchess as both the purveyor of commodity and as commodity herself. The objects, spaces and assemblages of her museum were rearranged and laid out in the text for a paying public, reflecting back to the consumer notions of celebrity; of a duchess ubiquitous throughout and, yet, tantalizingly obscured.

Image of Fig. 2 Charles Grignion after E. F. Burney, frontispiece to A Catalogue of the Portland Museum, London 1786. Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

Fig. 2 Charles Grignion after E. F. Burney, frontispiece to “A Catalogue of the Portland Museum,” London 1786. Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

The frontispiece of the Catalogue is the only surviving visual record of the collection prior to its dismantling at auction and was engraved by Charles Grignion after the artist Edward Francis Burney. Its absence from many of the surviving copies of the text (it is unusually preserved in Walpole’s) suggests its agency as a separately collectible item which could be removed and treasured, shared and traded by any catalogue owner. Far from an accurate representation of the collection as it would have appeared in Whitehall following the duchess’s death, it serves instead as an advertisement. It is rich in its texturing; layers of objects and materials are piled before the viewer’s eyes, with shells creeping out of exposed drawers, corallines perched atop cabinets and ornate porcelain gathered on the floor amongst leather-bound albums. Tobin has previously suggested that historians, “mistakenly assuming” that Burney’s illustration depicted the true aesthetic arrangement of the museum, “have portrayed the duchess’s collection as being in a constant state of disorder.”[8]

On 25 April 1786, The Morning Herald advertised “A Portrait of the late Dutchess Dowager of Portland, from a Marble Bust, executed by Rysbrack.”[9]  Sold by the print maker George Humphrey at a cost of 1s 6d, this engraving was produced in quarto, matching the size and shape of the catalogue suggesting that, despite being made and sold separately from the sale text, it was intended to speak to and even be inserted inside it (as Walpole did).[10] This image was quickly circulated amongst those interested in the sale – despite the fact that the bust itself was sculpted in 1727 and depicted the duchess at the age of twelve, it served to inform an eager public previously unfamiliar with her appearance.

Image of Fig. 3 – Rysbrack’s bust of the duchess of Portland, engraved by Humphreys and inserted into Walpole’s copy of the Catalogue

Fig. 3 – Rysbrack’s bust of the duchess of Portland, engraved by Humphreys and inserted into Walpole’s copy of the Catalogue

 

Walpole’s surviving copy can be read as an interactive, rather than static text – through marginal annotation and extra-illustration, he incorporated his own voice into that of the printed catalogue, revealing his experience within the unfolding action. Bound in his extra-illustrated volume between marbled boards, Walpole’s copy of the catalogue is arranged alongside additional texts and handwritten notes, augmenting the original both textually and physically. A handwritten account of the duchess’s life and collecting, written over four sides of a quarto and functioning as a personalised preface, was inserted into the catalogue by Walpole and later published by W. S. Lewis as The Duchess of Portland’s Museum. In it, he gives a survey of the types of objects collected: “At first her Taste was chiefly confined to Shells, Japan & old China, particularly of the blue & white with a brown Edge, of which last sort She formed a large Closet at Bulstrode.”

Image of Fig. 3 – Rysbrack’s bust of the duchess of Portland, engraved by Humphreys and inserted into Walpole’s copy of the Catalogue

Fig. 4 – Page from Walpole’s handwritten account of the duchess of Portland and her museum, inserted into the front of the Catalogue.

Elsewhere, he condemns her methods of acquiring art works, and her apparent lack of financial restraint, describing how “Prints of Hollar, to compleat his work, She bought at any price. On the death or Sr Luke Schaub the Duchess began to buy pictures, which She did not understand, & there & in other instances paid extravagantly, as well as for other articles to her taste. Latterly She went deeply into natural history, & her Collection in that Walk was supposed to have cost her fifteen thousand pounds.” Certainly, Walpole’s vocabulary in depicting the duchess’s collecting practices is one concerned with monetary value and the duchess’s own seemingly insatiable lust for objects whose real, artistic or historical worth which, according to Walpole, she did not know.

After the sale, he wrote; “The Collection was accordingly sold in May & June 1786, in a Sale of thirty-eight days …the Produce of the Auction was Ten thousand nine hundred sixty five pounds ten shillings & six pence.” Continuing, he noted “the disproportion between the large Sum which the Duchess had expended, and the produce of the Sale was not near so great as it seemed. Several of the most valuable articles in her Collection were not exposed for Sale.” Here, his choice of “exposed” touches on contemporary anxieties about the public and potentially embarrassing, revealing nature of the auction.

 

This research was conducted thanks to Lewis Walpole Library’s Travel Grant Award and would not have been possible without the kind and generous support of its staff. This short article is born from part of my ongoing doctoral thesis, entitled ‘Bluestocking Antiquarianism: Collecting, Craft and Conversation in the Duchess of Portland’s Museum’.

[1] For more on public perceptions of the bluestockings, see Elizabeth Eger, Bluestockings: Women of Reason from Enlightenment to Romanticism (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

[2] Beth Fowkes Tobin, “Virtuoso or Naturalist? Margaret Cavendish Bentinck, Duchess of Portland”, in Women and Curiosity in Early Modern England and France, Line Cottegnies, Sandrine Parageau and John J. Thompson  eds., (Brill Books: Boston, 2016); 216-232, 217. See also Fowkes Tobin, The Duchess’s Shells (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014), 220-221.

[3] William Cavendish Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland (1738-1809), was the duchess’s eldest son.

[4] Horace Walpole to Lady Ossory, 23 July 1793, The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1937-1983), 33: 484.

[5] Cynthia Wall, “The English Auction: Narratives of Dismantlings”,  Eighteenth-Century Studies 31, 1 (Fall, 1997): 1-25, 14.

[6] Troy Bickham, Savages within the Empire: Representations of American Indians in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005), 45.

[7]  11 May, 1786. The Morning Post.

[8] Tobin, The Duchess’s Shells, 55.

[9] 25 April 1786, The Morning Herald.

[10] Tobin, The Duchess’s Shells, 230-231.

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.