From the Pen of Horace Walpole

Horace Walpole

To John Chute, Esquire.

Paris, Oct. 3, 1765.
I don’t know where you are, nor when I am likely to hear of you. I write at random, and, as I talk, the first thing that comes into my pen. I am, as you certainly conclude, much more amused than pleased. At a certain time of life, sights and new objects may entertain one, but new people cannot find any place in one’s affection. New faces with some name or other belonging to them, catch my attention for a minute—I cannot say many preserve it. Five or six of the women that I have seen already are very sensible. The men are in general much inferior, and not even agreeable. They sent us their best, I believe, at first, the Due de Nivernois. Their authors, who by the way are everywhere, are worse than their own writings, which I don’t mean as a compliment to either. In general, the style of conversation is solemn, pedantic, and seldom animated, but by a dispute. I was expressing my aversion to disputes: Mr. Hume, who very gratefully admires the tone of Paris, having never known any other tone, said with great surprise, “Why, what do you like, if you hate both disputes and whisk?”
Palace of Versailles

What strikes me the most upon the whole is, the total difference of manners between them and us, from the greatest object to the least. There is not the smallest similitude in the twenty-four hours. It is obvious in every trifle. Servants carry their lady’s train, and put her into her coach with their hat on. They walk about the streets in the rain with umbrellas to avoid putting on their hats; driving themselves in open chaises in the country without hats, in the rain too, and yet often wear them in a chariot in Paris when it does not rain. The very footmen are powdered from the break of day, and yet wait behind their master, as I saw the Duc of Praslin’s do, with a red pocket-handkerchief about their necks. Versailles, like everything else, is a mixture of parade and poverty, and in every instance exhibits something most dissonant from our manners. In the colonnades, upon the staircases, nay in the antechambers of the royal family, there are people selling all sorts of wares. While we were waiting in the Dauphin’s sumptuous bedchamber, till his dressing-room door should be opened, two fellows were sweeping it, and dancing about in sabots to rub the floor.

Louis, Dauphin of France

You perceive that I have been presented. The Queen took great notice of me; none of the rest said a syllable. You are let into the King’s bedchamber just as he has put on his shirt; he dresses and talks good-humouredly to a few, glares at strangers, goes to mass, to dinner, and a-hunting. The good old Queen, who is like Lady Primrose in the face, and Queen Caroline in the immensity of her cap, is at her dressing-table, attended by two or three old ladies, who are languishing to be in Abraham’s bosom, as the only man’s bosom to whom they can hope for admittance. Thence you go to the Dauphin, for all is done in an hour. He scarce stays a minute; indeed, poor creature, he is a ghost, and cannot possibly last three months. The Dauphiness is in her bedchamber, but dressed and standing; looks cross, is not civil, and has the true Westphalian grace and accents. The four Mesdames, who are clumsy plump old wenches, with a bad likeness to their father, stand in a bedchamber in a row, with black cloaks and knotting-bags, looking goodhumoured, not knowing what to say, and wriggling as if they wanted to make water. This ceremony too is very short; then you are carried to the Dauphin’s three boys, who you may be sure only bow and stare. The Duke of Berry looks weak and weak-eyed: the Count de Provence is a fine boy; the Count d’Artois  well enough. The whole concludes with seeing the Dauphin’s little girl dine, who is as round and as fat as a pudding.

In the Queen’s antechamber we foreigners and the foreign ministers were shown the famous beast of the Gevaudan, just arrived, and covered with a cloth, which two chasseurs lifted up. It is an absolute wolf, but uncommonly large, and the expression of agony and fierceness remains strongly imprinted on its dead jaws.*

I dined at the Due of Praslin’s with four-and-twenty ambassadors and envoys, who never go but on Tuesdays to court. He does the honours sadly, and I believe nothing else well, looking important and empty. The Due de Choiseul’s face, which is quite the reverse of gravity, does not promise much more. His wife is gentle, pretty, and very agreeable. The Duchess of Praslin, jolly, red-faced, looking very vulgar, and being very attentive and civil. I saw the Due de Richelieu in waiting, who is pale, except his nose, which is red, much wrinkled, and exactly a remnant of that age which produced General Churchill, Wilks the player, the Duke of Argyll, &c. Adieu!

* More from Walpole on the Beast in a letter to the Hon. H.S. Conway, October 6, 1765: Yes, the wild beast, he of the Gevaudan. He is killed, and actually in the Queen’s antechamber, where he was exhibited to us with as much parade as if it was Mr. Pitt. It is an exceedingly large wolf, and, the connoisseurs say, has twelve teeth more than any wolf ever had since the days of Romulus’s wet-nurse. The critics deny it to be the true beast; and I find most people think the beast’s name is legion, for there are many. He was covered with a sheet, which two chasseurs lifted up for the foreign ministers and strangers.

Travels with Victoria: A Visit to Strawberry Hill

Horace Walpole (1717-1797) was the epitome of the 18th century man: author, collector, designer and architect, politician, diarist, raconteur — you know, the best of those “sees all, knows all, tells all” fellows.  His Strawberry Hill gothic fantasy in Twickenham (website here) has received a major renovation and is open to the public; from central London, it’s a short train ride and brief walk.

One of Walpole’s accomplishments was the “invention” of the neo-Gothic movement, or Gothic Revival, in architecture, interior design, and literature.  As the youngest son of Prime Minister Robert Walpole, he enjoyed a typical upper class childhood, attended Eton and Cambridge, took a Grand Tour, and entered Parliament while still in his 20’s. Horace Walpole collected old  glass, books, art and almost any sort of object from early England, and he was fascinated with Gothic architecture.

Walpole acquired the house on this property in the 1740’s and set about remodeling and adapting it for the next several decades.  He continued his collecting of artifacts to adorn the rooms and it became the object of many visitors to tour the premises, so many that he complained about their invasion of his privacy.  But before the intrusions got so bad, he had another “invention” up his sleeve. In 1765 he published The Castle of Otrano, first in a continuing tradition of “Gothick” literature, popular even today in various forms.

Having no direct heirs, and being the last of the Earls of Orford,  he left the house to his friend, sculptress and society leader Anne Damer. Later it fell into disrepair, was sold and the collections dispersed.  For the last decades, it has been a part of St. Mary’s University College. The Strawberry Hill Trust secured  £9 million for the restoration project, which opened in October, 2010. 

 Above, a window, showing how Walpole incorporated his collection of Renaissance and older glass into his modern 18th century windows.  Last year, in 2010, I was fortunate enough to visit the wonderful exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London: Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill. The exhibition, also shown at the Yale Center for British Art, reassembled many of the objects Walpole have collected but which were dispersed in a multi-day sale in 1842.  Below, a cabinet of miniatures and enamels made for Walpole and now owned by the V&A. Inside, it was full of his treasures.

Most of these objects and much of the interior furnishings remain in other collections, both private and in museums, but gradually the Trust hopes to secure some loans and gifts of the originals.  For the time being, while the renovations continue,  the rooms are empty.

Above, the library in 2011; below, the library as Walpole enjoyed it.

There are, however, some amenities: the gift shop and the restaurant, both of which enjoyed our custom.  Due to the nature of the building, it is necessary to book visits in advance or risk a long wait. In 1784,Walpole wrote a guide to Strawberry Hill.  A reproduction of this guide is given to each  visitor.  Walpole wrote: “In truth, I did not mean to make my house so Gothic as to exclude convenience, and modern refinements in luxury…It was built to please my own taste, and in sole degree to realize my own vision.”

The staircase from below and from above. From Walpole’s 1784 guide: “In the well of the staircase, by a cord of black and yellow, hangs a Gothic lantern of tin japanned, designed by Mr. Bentley and filled with painted  glass…”

Below, I have arranged my photos in groups of architectural features. If you’d rather see each room, one by one, click here.  More of the windows, incorporating Walpole’s colorful collections of glass:

Also of note are the various designs for fireplaces.

The Great Parlor

The Blue Bed Chamber

The Holbein Chamber

The Gallery

The ceilings were brilliantly executed – and restored.

The Library

The Gallery, with a fan-vault ceiling inspired by Westminster Abbey’s King Henry VII chapel, is brilliant; in the restoration, the papier mache forms were refreshed and regilded.

Finally, a few shots of the exterior.  The garden is being re-developed, and it has a way to go. The white canvas at the lower right was part of a tent used for a party the previous evening and in the process of removal.

The roof.

We searched for a while before a kind St. Mary’s faculty member directed us to the chapel, now hidden beyond a car park. The design is based on the tomb of Edmund Audley, bishop of Salisbury in the Cathedral there.

For more posts on Horace Walpole, see our blogs of 4/20/10, 4/7/11, 5/11/11, 5/28/11, 6/8/11, and 6/19/11.

From the Pen of Horace Walpole

Walpole’s home, Strawberry Hill

From Horace Walpole to the Miss Berrys.
Berkeley Square, June 8, 1791.
Your No. 34, that was interrupted, and of which the last date was of May 24th, I received on the 6th, and if I could find fault, it would be in the length; for I do not approve of your writing so much in hot weather, for, be it known to you ladies, that from the first of the month, June is not more June at Florence. My hay is crumbling away; and I have ordered it to be cut, as a sure way of bringing rain. I have a selfish reason, too, for remonstrating against long letters. I feel the season advancing, when mine will be piteous short; for what can I tell you from Twickenham in the next three or four months? Scandal from Richmond and Hampton Court, or robberies at my own door? The latter, indeed, are blown already. I went to Strawberry (Hill) on Saturday, to avoid the Birthday [4th June] crowd and squibs and crackers. At six I drove to Lord Stafford’s, where his goods are to be sold by auction; his sister, Lady Anne [Conolly], intending to pull down the house and rebuild it. I returned a quarter before seven; and in the interim between my Gothic gate and Ashe’s Nursery, a gentleman and gentlewoman, in a one-horse chair and in the broad face of the sun, had been robbed by a single highwayman, sans mask. Ashe’s mother and sister stood and saw it; but having
no notion of a robbery at such an hour in the high-road, and before their men had left work, concluded it was an acquaintance of the robber’s. I suppose Lady Cecilia Johnstone will not descend from her bedchamber to the drawing-room without life-guard men.

Madame d’Albany
The Duke of Bedford eclipsed the whole birthday by his clothes, equipage, and servants: six of the latter walked on the side of the coach to keep off the crowd—or to tempt it; for their liveries were worth an argosie. The Prince [of Wales] was gorgeous too: the latter is to give Madame d’Albany (1) a dinner. She has been introduced to Mrs. Fitzherbert. You know I used to call Mrs. Cosway’s concerts Charon’s boat: now, methinks, London is so. I am glad Mrs. C.[osway] is with you; she is pleasing—but surely it is odd to drop a child and her husband and country all in a breath!
I am glad you are disfranchised of the exiles. We have several, I am told, here; but I strictly confine myself to those I knew formerly at Paris, and who all are quartered on Richmond-green. I went to them on Sunday evening, but found them gone to Lord Fitzwilliam’s, the next house to Madame de Boufflers’, to hear his organ; whither I followed them, and returned with them. The Comtesse Emilie played on her harp; then we all united at loto. I went home at twelve, unrobbed; and Lord Fitzwilliam, who asked much after you both, was to set out the next morning for Dublin, though intending to stay there but four days, and be back in three weeks.
. . . . . The Duke of St. Albans has cut down all the brave old trees at Hanworth, and consequently reduced his park to what it issued from—Hounslow-heath: nay, he has hired a meadow next to mine, for the benefit of embarkation; and there lie all the good old corpses of oaks, ashes, and chestnuts, directly before your windows, and blocking up one of my views of the river but so impetuous is the rage for building, that his Grace’s timber will, I trust, not annoy us long. There will soon be one street from London to Brentford; ay, and from London to every village ten miles round! Lord Camden has just let ground at Kentish Town for building fourteen hundred houses—nor do I wonder; London is, I am certain, much fuller than ever I saw it. I have twice this spring been going to stop my coach in Piccadilly, to inquire what was the matter, thinking there was a mob—not at all; it was only passengers. Nor is their any complaint of depopulation from the country: Bath shoots out into new crescents, circuses, and squares every year: Birmingham, Manchester, Hull, and Liverpool would serve any King in Europe for a capital, and would make the Empress of Russia’s mouth water. Of the war with Catherine Slay-Czar I hear not a breath, and thence conjecture it is dozing into peace.
Dulwich College

. . . . . This morning I went with Lysons the Reverend to see Dulwich College, founded in 1619 by Alleyn, a player, which I had never seen in my many days. We were received by a smart divine, tre bien poudri, and with black satin breeches—but they are giving new wings and red satin breeches to the good old hostel too, and destroying a gallery with a very rich ceiling; and nothing will remain of ancient but the front, and an hundred mouldy portraits, among apostles, sibyls, and Kings of England. On Sunday I shall settle at Strawberry; and then woe betide you on post-days! I cannot make news without straw. The Johnstones are going to Bath, for the healths of both; so Richmond will be my only staple. Adieu, all three!
1.  Mme. d’Albany was the widow of Prince Charles Edward, who had died in 1788 in Italy. She was presented at Court, and was graciously received by the Queen. She was generally believed to be married to the great Italian tragic poet, Alfieri. Since her husband’s death she had been living in Paris, but had now fled to England for safety.

Victoria in England 2011

Penshurst Place, Kent

Yes, both Kristine and I confess we are unrepentant when it comes to spending our time and money on trips across the pond to England.  Many of you do the same.  We work hard to book ourselves into a variety of cities and London neighborhoods,  lots of museums and other historic attractions, gardens for wandering, evenings in the theatre or concert hall, and wonderful meals… and, believe it or not, time in libraries and archives.  My upcoming two weeks in England will be no different … castles, stately homes, gardens, museums, several different hotels…and archives at the University of Southampton and Hatfield House.
Upon our arrival in Dover, I hope we can visit Walmer Castle. We “did” Dover Castle a few years ago, and this time, I want to see the Duke of Wellington’s home when he was in residence as the Warden of the Cinque Ports, less than ten miles north along the Channel coast.

We have a stop planned at Penshurst Place, in which many centuries of British History are enveloped…as well as a great slice of architectural history. And stunning gardens, which I hope will be in full bloom in early June.

While we are in London, we want to re-visit the Victoria and Albert Museum, this year to see the Cult of Beauty exhibition, which comes highly recommended by Jo Manning and many others.
Last year, at the V and A, I enjoyed the Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill exhibition, in which many of his treasures were reassembled and shown while the house itself was undergoing a thorough renovation.  This year, I intend to see the finished house, just a short train ride from London in Twickenham.

Next I head to Southampton to visit the Archives in Hartley Library at the University of Southampton.

And while I am in town, I will make time to see the sights, though I understand that the house in which Jane Austen once resided is long gone.  Parts of the city walls, however, still stand, and the famous port should be interesting to see. 

After a short stay in London again, I will go to Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, to study diaries in their Archive. Hatfield has an amazing history and renowned gardens. I wrote about a previous visit to Hatfield on this blog, August 13 2010.

My final stop will be in Windsor, where I will visit the brand new Museum of Windsor and, if the stars are in perfect alignment, visit with our friend Hester Davenport, author of biographies of Mary Robinson and Fanny Burney, and an expert on Windsor history, among other achievements.

Then it will be time to fly home. And start planning the next trip (anticipation is more than half the fun). I will report more fully after I return, and perhaps, along the way.

From the Pen of Horace Walpole

Horace Walpole

To George Montagu, Esquire
Arlington Street, May 11, 1769
. . . . . Strawberry (Hill) has been in great glory; I have given a festino there that will almost mortgage it. Last Tuesday all France dined there: Monsieur and Madame du Chatelet, the Due de Liancourt, three more French ladies, whose names you will find in the enclosed paper, eight other Frenchmen, the Spanish and Portuguese ministers, the Holdernesses, Fitzroys, in short we were four and twenty. They arrived at two at the gates of the castle I received them, dressed in the cravat of Gibbons’s carving, and a pair of gloves embroidered up to the elbows that had belonged to James the First. The French servants stared, and firmly believed this was the dress of English country gentlemen. After taking a survey of the apartments, we went to the printing-house, where I had prepared the enclosed verses, with translations by Monsieur de Lille, one of the company. The moment they were printed off, I gave a private signal, and French horns and clarioiets accompanied this compliment. We then went to see Pope’s grotto and garden, and returned to a magnificent dinner in the refectory. In the evening we walked, had tea, coffee,and lemonade in the gallery, which was illuminated with a thousand, or thirty candles, I forget which, and played at whist and loo till midnight. Then there was a cold supper and at one the company returned to town, saluted by fifty nightingales, who, as tenants of the manor, came to do honour to their lord.

Vauxhall Gardens

I cannot say last night was equally agreeable. There was what they called a ridotto el fresco at Vauxhall, for which one paid half-a-guinea, though, except some thousand more lamps and a covered passage all round the garden, which took off from the gardenhood, there was nothing better than on a common night. Mr. Conway and I set out from his house at eight o’clock; the tide and torrent of coaches was so prodigious, that it was half-an-hour after nine before we got half way from Westminster-bridge. We then alighted; and after scrambling under bellies of horses, through wheels, and over posts and rails, we reached the gardens, where were already many thousand persons. Nothing diverted me but a man in a Turk’s dress and two nymphs in masquerade without masks, who sailed amongst the company, and, which was surprising, seemed to surprise nobody. It had been given out that people were desired to come in fancied dresses without masks. We walked twice round and were rejoiced to come away, though with the same difficulties as at our entrance; for we found three strings of coaches all along the road, who did not move half a foot in half-an-hour. There is to be a rival mob in the same way at Ranelagh to-morrow; for the greater the folly and imposition the greater is the crowd. I have suspended the vestimenta that were torn off my back to the god of repentance, and shall stay away. Adieu! I have not a word more to say to you. Yours ever.
P. S. I hope you will not regret paying a shilling for this packet.