Saturday, May 02, 2015
I've read nothing but Horace Walpole in weeks, it seems. Other authors are on my mind, however. One of the new books I would dearly like to buy and read, but am waiting on purchasing for now until I am back in funds (as one might say in the eighteenth century) is the recently-published memoir by Sarah Manguso entitled Ongoingness: The End of a Diary (Graywolf 2015). Sarah, obsessive long-time diarist, stops keeping her diary. Imagine such a thing. I am fascinated and disturbed by the very thought and want to find out why and how she stopped, and what came next. So that's on my list. As is another book - my sister's best friend has just had a book of poetry published, and I can't wait to buy it and savor it. He is wonderful and the poems are luminous - Kevin McClellan, Tributary (Barrow Street 2015).
Meanwhile, however, I am settling down each evening to read a hundred pages or so from my set of The Letters of Horace Walpole. Nearly through with Volume I, which covers much of his 20s, in the 1730s and 40s, when his father was Prime Minister and he himself was an active member of Parliament. He lived for a time at his father's new country house, Houghton (I mean...!), but he preferred living in "town." His letters from this time period contain lots of political news, which I have a hard time following (lords and ladies and royalty and their intrigues and machinations and general comings and goings), but, as Peter Cunningham, the editor of this edition, reminds us in his preface (p.xvi):
"His letters (his best works) are absolute jests and story books, and the exact standard of easy engaging writing.... He has the art to interest us in very little matters, and to enliven subjects seemingly the most barren."
The recipients of his letters certainly valued him as a correspondent, for these very reasons. Richard West, a school-fellow and friend, writes back to Walpole, about his letters (p.21):
"...I know I had rather gather the crumbs that fall from under your table, than be a prime guest with most other people."
His friends valued him in person, too, but he thought himself more worthy on the page (p.111):
"...if I have any wit in my letters, which I do not at all take for granted, it is ten to one that I have none out of my letters. A thousand people can write, that cannot talk..."
And have I mentioned he is often funny? This (p.175):
"...I cannot say I am well; I am afraid I have a little fever upon my spirits, or at least have nerves, which, you know, everybody has in England."
He uses more great words that bring the eighteenth century to life:
I enjoy keeping a list of them in my diary, as I read along. I'm almost afraid to read Sarah Manguso's book, truth be told, because I do love my diaries! So much happens, everywhere, but I find I have nothing else to say today - in Walpole's phrase there is no news "...from the kingdom of the Dull..." (p.226), except that I must go dig over the vegetable garden and this is the perfect time to do it. The fog has just burned off and it's sunny and chilly out. Too cold for bugs and the grass isn't yet unmanageable. Walpole has the last word again (p.194):
"Adieu! I am at the end of my tell."
Hello again Sarah. Been checking out your website just now. Looked at your paintings. Wow, what an impressive body of work you have. The quality of those paintings is just amazing. I bow down to you. Well done.
Gary, such lovely praise, thank you! I closed my used book shop some years back (as chronicled in this blog) so I could paint full time. I miss my shop but have no regrets about the decision. I mean HOLY CRACKERS do I love to paint...!Post a Comment