The Letters of Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford Volume I Part 53

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Indeed, my dear Sir, you certainly did not use to be stupid, and till you give me more substantial proof that you are so, I shall not believe it. As for your temperate diet and milk bringing about such a metamorphosis, I hold it impossible. I have such lamentable proofs every day before my eyes of the stupefying qualities of beef, ale, and wine, that I have contracted a most religious veneration for your spiritual nouriture. Only imagine that I here every day see men, who are mountains of roast beef, and only seem just roughly hewn out into the outlines of human form, like the giant-rock at Pratolino! I shudder when I see them brandish their knives in act to carve, and look on them as savages that devour one another. I should not stare at all more than I do, if yonder alderman at the lower end of the table was to stick his fork into his neighbour’s jolly cheek, and cut a brave slice of brown and fat. Why, I’ll swear I see no difference between a country gentleman and a sirloin; whenever the first laughs, or the latter is cut, there runs out the same stream of gravy!

Indeed, the sirloin does not ask quite so many questions. I have an aunt here, a family piece of goods, an old remnant of inquisitive hospitality and economy, who, to all intents and purposes is as beefy as her neighbours. She wore me so down yesterday with interrogatories, that I dreamt all night she was at my ear with who’s and why’s, and when’s and where’s, till at last in my very sleep I cried out, For G.o.d in heaven’s sake, Madam, ask me no more questions!

Oh! my dear Sir, don’t you find that nine parts in ten of the world are of no use but to make you wish yourself with that tenth part? I am so far from growing used to mankind by living amongst them, that my natural ferocity and wildness does but every day grow worse. They tire me, they fatigue me; I don’t know what to do with them; I don’t know what to say to them; I fling open the windows and fancy I want air; and when I get by myself, I undress myself, and seem to have had people in my pockets, in my plaits, -and on my shoulders! I indeed find this fatigue worse in the country than in town, because one can avoid it there, and has more resources; but it is there too. I fear ’tis growing old; but I literally seem to have murdered a man whose name was Ennui, for his ghost is ever before me. They say there is no English word for ennui;(847) I think you may translate it most literally by what is called “entertaining people,” and “doing the honours:” that is, you sit an hour with somebody you don’t know, and don’t care for, talk about the wind and the weather, and ask a thousand foolish questions, which all begin with, “I think you live a good deal in the country,” or, “I think you don’t love this thing or that.” Oh! ’tis dreadful!

I’ll tell you what is delightful-the Dominichin!(848) My dear Sir, if ever there was a Dominichin, if ever there was an original picture, this is one. I am quite happy; for my father is as much transported with it as I am. It is hung in the gallery, where are all his most capital pictures, and he himself thinks it beats all but the two Guido’S. That of the Doctors and The Octagon-I don’t know if you ever saw them?

What a chain of thought this leads me into! but why should I not indulge it? I will flatter myself with your, some time or other, pa.s.sing a few days with me. Why must I never expect to see any thing but Beefs in a gallery which would not yield even to the Colonna! If I do not most unlimitedly wish to see you and Mr. Whithed in it this very moment, it is only because I would not take you from our dear Mann. Adieu! you charming people all. Is not Madam Bosville a Beef? Yours, most sincerely.

(846) this very lively letter is the first of a series, hitherto unpublished, addressed by Mr. Walpole to John Chute, Esq. of the Vine, in the county of Hants. Mr. Chute was the grandson of Chaloner Chute, Esq. Speaker of the House of Commons to Richard Cromwell’s parliament. On the death of his brother Anthony, in 1754, he succeeded to the family estates, and died in 1776.-E.

(847) According to Lord Byron–

“Ennui is a growth of English root, Though nameless in our language: we retort The fact for words, and let the French translate That awful yawn, which sleep cannot abate.”

(848) Thus described by Walpole in his Description Of the Pictures at Houghton Hall:- “The Virgin and Child, a most beautiful, bright, and capital picture, by Dominichino: bought out of the Zambeccari palace at Bologna by Horace Walpole, junior.”-E.

340 Letter 118 To Sir Horace Mann.

Houghton, Aug. 29, 1743.

You frighten me about the Spaniards entering Tuscany: it is so probable, that I have no hopes against it but in their weakness. If all the accounts of their weakness and desertion are true, it must be easy to repel them. If their march to Florence is to keep pace with Prince Charles’s entering Lorrain, it is not yet near: hitherto, he has not found the pa.s.sage of the Rhine practicable. The French have a.s.sembled greater armies to oppose it than was expected. We are marching to a.s.sist him: the King goes on with the army. I am extremely sorry for the Chevalier de Beauvau’s(849) accident; as sorry, perhaps, as the prince or princess; for you know he was no favourite. The release of the French prisoners prevents the civilities which I would have taken care to have had shown him. You may tell the princess, that though it will be so much honour to us to have any of her family it) our power, vet I shall always be extremely concerned to have such an opportunity of showing my attention to them. there’s a period in her own style-“Comment! Monsieur des attentions: qu’il est poli! qu’il s’cait tOUrner une civilit’e!”

“Ha!(850) la brave Angloise! e viva!” What would I have given to have overheard you breaking it to the gallant! But of all, commend me to the good man Nykin! Why, Mamie (851) himself could not have cuddled up an affair for his sovereign lady better.

I have a commission from my lord to send you ten thousand thanks for his bronze-. He admires it beyond measure. It came down last Friday, on his birthday,(852) and was placed at the upper end of the gallery, which was illuminated on the occasion: indeed, it is incredible what a magnificent appearance it made. There were sixty-four candles, which showed all the pictures to great advantage. The Dominichin did itself and us honour. There is not the least question of its being original: one might as well doubt the originality of King Patapan! His patapanic majesty is not one of the least curiosities of Houghton. The crowds that come to see the house stare at him, and ask what creature it is. As he does not speak one word of Norfolk, there are strange conjectures made about him. Some think that he is a foreign prince come to marry Lady Mary. The disaffected say he is a Hanoverian: but the common people, who observe my lord’s vast fondness for him, take him for his good genius, which they call his familiar.

You will have seen in the papers that Mr. Pelham is at last first lord of the Treasury. Lord Bath had sent over Sir John Rushout’s valet de chambre to Hanau to ask it. It is a great question now what side he will take; or rather, if any side will take him. It is not yet known what the good folks in the Treasury will do-I believe, what they can. Nothing farther will be determined till the King’s return.

(849) Third son of Prince Craon, and knight of Malta.

(850) This relates to an intrigue which was observed in a church between an English gentleman and a lady who was at Florence with her husband. Mr. Mann was desired to speak to the lover to choose more proper places.

(851) Prince Craon’s name for the princess. She was mistress of Leopold, the last Duke of Lorrain, who married her to M. de Beauvau, and prevailed on the Emperor to make him a prince of the empire. Leopold had twenty children by her, who all resembled him; and he got his death by a cold which he contracted in standing to sea a new house, which he had built for her, furnished. The d.u.c.h.ess was extremely jealous, and once retired to Paris, to complain to her brother the Regent; but he was not a man to quarrel with his brother-in-law for things of that nature, and sent his sister back. Madame de Craon gave into devotion after the Duke’s death.

(852) August 26.

341 letter 119 To Sir Horace Mann.

Houghton, Sept. 7, 1743.

My letters are now at their ne plus ultra of nothingness so you may hope they will grow better again. I shall certainly go to town soon, for my patience is worn out. Yesterday, the weather grew cold: I put on a new waistcoat for its being winter’s birthday-the season I am forced to love; for summer has no charms for me when I pa.s.s it in the country.

We are expecting another battle, and a congress at the same time. Ministers seem to be flocking to Aix la Chapelle: and, what will much surprise you, unless you have lived long enough not to be surprised, is, that Lord Bolingbroke has hobbled the same way too-you will suppose, as a minister for France; I tell you, no. My uncle, who is here, was yesterday stumping along the gallery with a very political march: my lord asked him whither he was going. Oh, said he, to Aix la Chapelle.

You ask me about the marrying princesses. I know not a t.i.ttle. Princess Louisa(853) seems to be going, her clothes are bought; but marrying our daughters makes no conversation.

For either of the other two, all thoughts seem to be dropped of it. The senate of Sweden design themselves to choose a wife for their man of Lubeck. The city, and our supreme governors, the mob, are very angry that there @is a troop of French players at Clifden.(854) One of them was lately impertinent to a countryman, who thrashed him. His Royal Highness sent angrily to know the cause. The fellow replied, “he thought to have pleased his Highness in beating one of them, who had tried to kill his father and had wounded his brother.” This was not easy to answer.

I delight in Prince Craon’s exact intelligence! For his satisfaction, I can tell him that numbers, even here, would believe any story full as absurd as that of the King and my Lord Stair; or that very one, if any body will ever write it over. Our faith in politics will match any Neapolitan’s in religion. A political missionary will make more converts in a county progress than a Jesuit in the whole empire of China, and will produce more preposterous miracles. Sir Watkin Williams, at the last Welsh races, convinced the whole princ.i.p.ality (by reading a letter that affirmed it), that the King was not within two miles of the battle of Dettingen. We are not good at hitting off anti-miracles, the only way of defending one’s own religion. I have read -,in admirable story of the Duke of Buckingham, who, when James II. sent a priest to him to persuade him to turn Papist, and was plied by him with miracles, told the doctor, that if miracles were proofs of a religion, the Protestant cause was as well supplied as theirs. We have lately had a very extraordinary one near my estate in the country. A very holy man, as you might be, doctor, was travelling on foot, and was benighted.

He came to the cottage of a poor dowager, who had nothing in the house for herself and daughter but a couple of eggs and a slice of bacon. However, as she was a pious widow, she made the good man welcome. In the morning, in taking leave, the saint made her over to G.o.d for payment, and prayed that whatever she should do as soon as he was gone she might continue to do all day. This was a very unlimited request, and, unless the saint was a prophet too, might not have been very pleasant retribution. The good woman, who minded her affairs, and was not to be put out of her way, went about her business. She had a piece of coa.r.s.e cloth to make a couple of shifts for herself and child. She no sooner began to measure it but the yard fell a-measuring, and there was no stopping it. It was sunset before the good woman had time to take breath. She was almost stifled, for she was up to her ears in ten thousand yards of cloth. She could have afforded to have sold Lady Mary Wortley a clean shift’ of the usual coa.r.s.eness she wears, for a groat halfpenny.

I wish you would tell the Princess this story. Madame Riccardi, or the little Countess d’Elbenino, will doat on it.

I don’t think it will be out of Pandolfini’s way, if you tell it to the little Albizzi. You see that I have not forgot the tone of my Florentine acquaintance. I know I should have translated it to them: you remember what admirable work I used to make of such stories in broken Italian. I have heard old Churchill tell Bussy English puns out of jest-books: particularly a reply about eating hare, which he translated, “j’ai mon ventre plein de poil.” Adieu!

(853) Youngest daughter of George the Second. She was married in the following October, and died in 1751, at the age of twenty-seven.-E.

(854) The residence of the Prince of Wales. This n.o.ble building was burnt to the ground in 1795, and nothing of its furniture preserved but the tapestry that represents the Duke of Marlborough’s victories.-E.

343 letter 120 To sir Horace Mann.

Houghton, Sept. 17, 1743.

As much as we laughed at Prince Craon’s history of the King and Lord Stair, you see it was not absolutely without foundation. I don’t just believe that he threatened his master with the parliament. They say he gives for reason of his Quitting, their not having accepted one plan of operation that he has offered. There is a long memorial that he presented to the King, with which I don’t doubt but his lordship will oblige the public.(856) He has ordered all his equipages to be sold by public auction in the camp. This is all I can tell you of this event, and this is more than has been written to the ministry here. They talk of great uneasinesses among the English officers, all of which I don’t believe. The army is put into commission. Prince Charles has not pa.s.sed the Rhine, nor we any thing but our time. The papers of to-day tell us of a definitive treaty signed by us and the Queen of Hungary with the King of Sardinia, which I will flatter myself will tend to your defence. I am not in much less trepidation about Tuscany than Richcourt is, though I scarce think my fears reasonable; but while you are concerned, I fear every thing.

My lord does not admire the account of the lanfranc; thanks you, and will let it alone. I am going to town in ten days, not a little tired of the country, and in the utmost impatience for the winter; which I am sure from all political prospects, must be entertaining to one who only intends to see them at the length of the telescope.

I was lately diverted with an article in the Abecodario Pittorico, in the article of William Dobson: it says, “Nacque nel quartiere d’Holbrons in Inghilterra.”(857) Did the author take Holborn for a city, or Inghilterra for the capital of the island of London? Adieu!

(856) In this memorial Lord Stair complained that his advice had been slighted, hinted at Hanoverian partialities, and asked permission to retire, as he expressed it, to his plough.

His resignation was accepted, with marks of the King’s displeasure at the language in which it was tendered.-E.

(857) Charles the First used to call Dobson the English Tintoret. He is said to have been the first painter who introduced the practice of obliging persons who sat to him to pay half the price in advance.-E.

344 letter 121 To Sir Horace Mann.

Newmarket, Oct. 3, 1743.

I am writing to you in an inn on the road to London. What a paradise should I have thought this when I was in the Italian inns in a wide barn with four ample windows, which had nothing more like gla.s.s than shutters and iron bars ‘ no tester to the bed, and the saddles and portmanteaus heaped on me to keep off the cold. What a paradise did I think the inn at Dover when I came back! and what magnificence Were twopenny prints, saltcellars, and boxes to hold the knives: but the summum bonum was small-beer and the newspaper.

“I bless’d my stars, and called it luxury!”

Who was the Neapolitan amba.s.sadress (858) that could not live at Paris, because there was no maccaroni? Now am I relapsed into all the dissatisfied repinement of a true English grumbling voluptuary. I could find in my heart to write a Craftsman against the Government, because I am not quite so much at my ease as on my own sofa. I could persuade myself that it is my Lord Carteret’s fault that I am only sitting in a common arm-chair, when I would be lolling in a p’ech’e-mortel. How dismal, how solitary, how scrub does this town look and yet it has actually a street of houses better than Parma or Modena. Nay, the houses of the people of fashion, who come hither for the races, are palaces to what houses in London itself were fifteen years ago. People do begin to live again now, and I suppose in a term we shall revert to York Houses, Clarendon Houses, etc. But from that grandeur all the n.o.bility had contracted themselves to live in coops of a dining-room, a dark back-room, with one eye in a corner, and a closet. Think what London would be, if the chief houses were in it, as in the cities in other countries, and not dispersed like great rarity-plums in a vast pudding of country. Well, it is a tolerable place as it is! Were I a physician, I would prescribe nothing but recipe, CCCLXV drachm. Linden. Would you know why I like London so much?

Why if the world must consist of so many fools as it does, I choose to take them in the gross, and not made into separate pills, as they are prepared in the country. Besides, there is no being alone but in a metropolis: the worst place in the world to find solitude is in the country: questions grow there, and that unpleasant Christian commodity, neighbours.

Oh! they are all good Samaritans, and do so pour balms and nostrums upon one, if one has but the toothache, or a journey to take, that they break one’s head. A journey to take-ay!

they talk over the miles to you, and tell you, you will be late and My Lord Lovel says, John always goes two hours in the dark in the morning, to avoid being One hour in the dark in the evening. I was pressed to set out to-day before seven: I did before nine; and here am I arrived at a quarter past five, for the rest of the night.

I am more convinced every day, that there is not only no knowledge of the world out of a great city, but no decency, no practicable society-I had almost said, not a virtue. I will only instance in modesty, which all old Englishmen are persuaded cannot exist within the atmosphere of Middles.e.x.

Lady Mary has a remarkable taste and knowledge of music, and can sing; I don’t say, like your sister, but I am sure she would be ready to die if obliged to sing before three people, or before One with whom she is not intimate. The other day there came to see her a Norfolk heiress: the young gentlewoman had not been three hours in the house, and that for the first time of her life, before she notified her talent for singing, and invited herself up-stairs, to Lady Mary’s harpsichord; where, with a voice like thunder, and with as little harmony, she sang to nine or ten people for an hour. “Was ever nymph like Rossvmonde?”-no, d’honneur. We told her, she had a very strong voice. “Lord, Sir! my master says it is nothing to what it was.” My dear child, she brags abominably; if it had been a thousandth degree louder, you must have heard it at Florence.

I did not write to you last post, being overwhelmed with this sort of people – I will be more punctual in London. Patapan is in my lap: I had him wormed lately, which he took famously: I made it up with him by tying a collar of rainbow-riband about his neck, for a token that he is never to be wormed any more.

I had your long letter of two sheets of Sept. 17th, and wonder at your perseverance in telling me so much as you always do, when I, dull creature, find so little for you. I can only tell you that the more you write, the happier you make me; and I a.s.sure you, the more details the better: I so often lay schemes for returning to you, that I am persuaded I shall, and would keep up my stock of Florentine ideas.

I honour Matthew’s punctilious observance of his Holiness’s dignity. How incomprehensible Englishmen are! I should have sworn that he would have piqued himself on calling the Pope the w- of Babylon, and have begun his remonstrance, with “you old d-d-.” What extremes of absurdities! to flounder from Pope Joan to his Holiness! I like your reflection, “that every body can bully the Pope.” There was a humourist called Sir James of the Peak, who had been beat by a felony, who afterwards underwent the same operation from a third hand.

“Zound,” said Sir James, “that I did not know this fellow would take a beating!” Nay, my dear child, I don’t know that Matthews would!

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