10. Doutes Historiques sur la Vie et le Regne de Richard III

King Louis XVI’s Translation of Horace Walpole’s Historic Doubts

 

by Loftus Jestin, Professor Emeritus of English, Central Connecticut State University

Among the curious artifacts at the Lewis Walpole Library, one of the truly rare and startling manuscripts is Louis XVI’s translation of Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard III.

The original publication in 1768 of Horace Walpole’s attempt to exonerate the reputation of Richard III caused quite a stir. The book generated much controversy with rebuttals and vilifications by such luminaries as Hume and Gibbon, many of which Walpole answered tartly over the next twenty years or so. William Cole and Thomas Gray affirmed Walpole’s argument, as, in fact, did Voltaire. The execution of the French king on January 21st, 1793, so upset Walpole that he wrote an angry, vituperative letter eight days later of nearly a thousand words to Lady Ossory, in which he could find no terms sufficiently strong to describe the murderers: “It remained for the enlightened eighteenth century to baffle language and invent horrors that can be found in no vocabulary” [Corres., p. 177, vol. 34, 1965]. The death of this “best-natured and most inoffensive of men” [p. 176], not to forget his reputation, which was so thoroughly traduced by the revolutionary mob, seemed to him a parallel to, if not a vindication of, his assertion in Historic Doubts that Richard III was maligned and his name thoroughly blackened by Lancastrian and Tudor propagandists.

It would have heartened Walpole had he known of the French king’s translation of the book before he died in 1797. Apparently, having been purloined by the mob from the king’s cell at the Tuileries, the manuscript escaped destruction and ended up in the hands of the publisher Roussel d’Epinol, who printed it at his shop in Paris in 1800. The manuscript was then purchased by Louise Comtesse de Ponthon, who married Henry Seymour; it descended down the generations of the Seymour family until its sale in 1949 at Sotheby’s to Dr. James Hasson of Berkshire for £300, who then sold it through Maggs Bros. Ltd. in 1950 to Wilmarth S. Lewis for £350. The manuscript remains in the Lewis Walpole Library, Farmington, Connecticut.

It appears from the manuscript that the king wrote out his translation in an already bound notebook of 82 octavo-sized pages, rather than on loose sheets. Written in a tiny and very neat cursive hand over each side of each leaf, the script forms a continuous, uninterrupted flow, albeit in a slightly cramped hand. There are many cross outs and corrections, especially in the early part of the text, but with far fewer emendations in the latter half, suggestive of a greater confidence, or perhaps, more alarmingly, of the need for speed, given the king’s awareness of his approaching doom.

Many years ago, Mr. Lewis told me the following anecdote, which I have not been able to confirm. Not long after his purchase of the manuscript, authorities at the Bibliothèque nationale informed him that his manuscript was only a copy of the original, which was housed there in Paris. “Not at all,” Mr. Lewis rebutted. “You have the copy. The original manuscript in the king’s hand is here in Farmington. Come and see it for yourself!” No doubt annoyed by this pesky American millionaire, the French national library sent two experts to examine the manuscript. “Quite supercilious they were, too!” Lewis testified, until they held his copy in hand, whereupon one of the men had to sit down, quite faint.  There was no question who had the original, and who the copy.

Twenty years ago or so, I used to take my graduate students on a field trip to the Lewis Walpole library to look at some the rare books there, books they had read in modern editions for my seminar on eighteenth-century literature. Pope’s own copy of Homer’s Odyssey with his pencil drawing of his grotto at his house in Twickenham on the inside of the back cover, volumes of the original publications of many seventeenth and eighteenth-century plays, Bentley’s hand-drawn illustrations for Gray’s poems, the second folio of Shakespeare’s plays, and other such treasures. When I opened for them the slip case holding Louis XVI’s manuscript translation of Historic Doubts, many of the students gasped and looked at each other bug-eyed with a wild surprise, having never seen such an astonishing rarity before.

8. J.H. Müntz’s designs for Dickie Bateman’s Grove House, Old Windsor

J.H. Müntz’s designs for Dickie Bateman’s Grove House, Old Windsormuntz drawings of r bateman's room

by Matthew Reeve, Associate Professor and Queen’s National Scholar, Department of Art History & Art Conservation, Queen’s University

In one of Horace Walpole’s clever commentaries on the new Gothic style, he described the transformation of Dickie Bateman’s villa at Old Windsor in two characteristically witty turns of phrase: “[I] converted Dicky Bateman from a Chinese to a Goth…I preached so effectively that every pagoda took the veil”; and that Bateman’s house had “changed its religion […] I converted it from Chinese to Gothic”. Walpole positions himself as a teacher and Bateman as a disciple whom he convinced to change his tastes from Chinoiserie (“the fashion of the instant”) to the Gothic, the style “of the elect”.[1]

“The elect” was not a socio-economic category, but a tongue-in-cheek reference to Walpole’s own circle of friends and associates and their shared Gothic idiom. Walpole’s allegory of stylistic change as national and religious conversion was based in part on the fact that he provided the conduit for two of his closest designers in the Strawberry Committee—Richard Bentley (1708-82) and Johann Heinrich Müntz (1727-98)—to design Gothic additions to the Priory. Rebuilt and expanded in the fashionable mode of Strawberry Hill and by its designers, from Walpole’s perspective at least, Bateman’s works at Old Windsor served to reinforce his role as arbiter of the Gothic taste and Strawberry Hill as its paradigm. Plans to renovate the house began in 1758, coinciding with Walpole’s visit in that year.[2]

The three drawings at the Lewis Walpole Library are for Bateman’s new dining room and are dated to 1761. They are now part of LWL Folio 75 M92 761, the Library’s stunning oversized portfolio of Müntz’s works. They are important testaments to Bateman’s architectural patronage and they provide vital visual testimony of the eighteenth-century history of the house of which precious little now survives.[3] Another part of the house is probably also preserved at the Lewis Walpole Library—Richard Bentley’s drawing of a cloister very likely relates to the original cloister at Old Windsor that connected the house to Müntz’s dining room (49 3585c). Although aspects of the ornament of the dining room is common to Müntz’s other drawings—particularly the screen of St Alban’s Abbey that he favoured—the octagonal form is unprecedented in Walpole’s oeuvre.

Walpole’s account of Bateman’s Old Windsor demands nuancing. Framing himself as the reigning doyen of the Gothic taste, he carefully sidelines Dicky Bateman, a senior man of taste, who in fact built some of the most significant statements of the Gothic and Chinese taste in the 1730s through 1750s at Shobdon Church and Court in Herefordshire, the early building works at Old Windsor, and in a series of garden and “interior design” commissions for aristocratic patrons. His role as an arbiter of the modern styles and of Chinoiserie in particular was celebrated in Robert Levrac-Tournières’s 1741 portrait (now Birmingham Art Gallery) and Walpole’s description of him as “the founder of the Sharadwagi [Chinese] style”.[4] A member of the homoerotic circle around Lord Hervey, Stephen Fox, and others, Bateman was a leading man of taste in London when Walpole returned from the Grand Tour and one of the models Walpole emulated in the early 1740s and 1750s. Emulation of Bateman undoubtedly informed Walpole’s thwarted attempt to acquire the White House at Old Windsor directly beside Bateman in 1746 (then owned by their mutual friend Sir Charles Hanbury Williams), prior to purchasing Strawberry Hill.[5] Old Windsor was, as Walpole hoped Strawberry Hill would be, a cause célèbre of London society from the 1730s through 1760s. But it was also a building that visitors understood to elide Bateman’s queer persona with the its fussy, hybrid style. Described as “fribble” or “fribblish”, the house was considered an architectural projection of the outrageously effeminate character Mr Fribble from David Garrick’s 1747 Miss in Her Teens, who was, in turn, apparently based on Bateman himself or on Walpole.[6]

[1] Yale Correspondence vol. 37, 359; Yale Correspondence vol. 10, 43.

[2] Yale Correspondence vol. 14, 102.

[3] The fullest account of the house is now Matthew M. Reeve, “Dickie Bateman and the Gothicization of Old Windsor: Architecture and Sexuality in the Circle of Horace Walpole”, Architectural History 56 (2013), 99-133.

[4] Yale Correspondence vol. 35, 359.

[5] Yale Correspondence vol. 9, 39 to Montagu 2 Aug 1746; T. Eustace Harwood, Windsor Old and New, 319–20.

[6] On the reception of Old Windsor, see Reeve, “Dickie Bateman”, 118-24.

Bibliography

Harwood, T. Eustace. Windsor Old and New, (London: 1929).

Lewis, W. S. (ed.). The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence, 48 vols
(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1937–83).

Reeve, Matthew. “Dickie Bateman and the Gothicization of Old Windsor: Architecture and Sexuality in the Circle of Horace Walpole”, Architectural History 56 (2013), 99-133.