Tuesday, April 21, 2015
"...a gentleman cut out of paper..."
That's how Horace Walpole describes himself in a letter to an old friend in 1788 (Volume IX p.142). The phrase has come to embody Walpole to me as I read through what I happen to possess of his published letters. Which leave me, to quote him again:
"...extremely pleased. It is a most wonderful mass of information." (Volume IX p.126)
He writes that about reading Gibbon but it invokes my reading experience of his own words quite well.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. To explain my citations above: in short order I finished both volumes of A Selection of the Letters of Horace Walpole, edited by Wilmarth Lewis (Harper 1926), and what happened next is what always happens next. I wanted more. Luckily, I have more. I don't own the aforementioned comprehensive Yale set of his correspondence, but I do own another set - The Letters of Horace Walpole, edited by Peter Cunningham, in nine volumes. Originally published in 1858, my set is a reprint from 1906, published by John Grant in Edinburgh. Each sturdy hardcover volume is 400-500 pages long. The set contains nearly 2700 of his letters, from 1735 up to two months before his death in 1797. In a daring move, reading-wise, I followed my inclination and began reading in Volume IX. I did this since I wasn't sure if I really wanted to commit to reading the whole set, and I also wanted to immediately read more of his letters to certain correspondents from very late in his life, namely Hannah More and the Berry sisters. So Volume IX it is. Now, having finished Volume IX, I am doubling back and beginning afresh with Volume I, since I still haven't had enough, apparently. I could be here a while, please bear with me!
Reading him feels akin to following a single character in a Jane Austen novel throughout the course of a long and fascinating life - a character escaping the boundaries of a story held within just one novel. The language is similar, for one thing. His sentences remind me of Jane Austen's (and Patrick O'Brian's, for that matter). And certain words invoke the eighteenth century to me, and he uses them often:
His letters and the world view he espouses within them are so interesting - as a young man he goes on the Grand Tour, then sits in Parliament, middle age finds him in the literary salons in Paris, and writing and publishing at home, at a later age he is in favor of the American Revolution, and in old age he watches in horror the unfolding events of the French Revolution. He has so much to say about politics, literature and authors, social gossip, and personal inclinations, and the letters flow on like a river. Some correspondents he kept entertained for decades, up until their deaths, and, finally, until his own.
I've been taking tons of notes in my diary, as I read along. I scan them over and wonder why I do it. The same goes for writing here. I mean, I can't quite imagine anyone is finding this very interesting (although, you never know - for example in this charming pro-book article when the author mentions Leigh Hunt - and Rose Macaulay! - I feel ridiculously happy), and I often wish I could write more about new books and recent authors. The sad truth is that there are contemporary books I dearly want to buy and read - many! right now! - but I am staying away from bookshops and not buying online either, because after this long winter and its various expenditures foreseen and unforeseen, I have zero book-buying funds. And since I generally eschew libraries, my own home library must suffice. This is where my inclination is leading me anyway. Horace Walpole is who I'm reading, and I love him, and, as must be apparent by now, I like to take note of my reading experiences, unashamedly, whatever they are. So here we are, with hearts on sleeves once more. Walpole says it better than I ever could (Volume IX p.447):
"...every word was the truth of my heart; and why should not you see what is or was in it?"
Hello :) I just found you today from a link on another site. I read the first post on Walpole. I don't know anything about him, but you're enthusiasm was quite infectious.
Thanks for your comment, Gary - glad you found me! Walpole is infectious - my reading in his correspondence continues apace.Post a Comment