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. Eight 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!’;
“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, for 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.
“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.”
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
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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. One 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.
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