Horace Walpole, Fourth Earl of Orford 1717–97
Son of the Prime Minister, Sir Robert, Walpole was educated at Eton with Thomas Gray, with whom he made a troubled continental journey, 1739–41; after reconciliation, he published Gray’s Pindaric Odes at his printing press at Strawberry Hill, outside London. This famous house (now part of a teachers’ college) was elaborately decorated by him as a mock ‘Gothic’ castle, and became a tourist site. Inspired by a dream, Walpole wrote the first ‘Gothic’ novel The Castle of Otranto (1764) and set the vogue for medieval dungeons, ghosts and persecuted heroines; his other writings include pioneer work on the visual arts, and a defence of Richard III. Walpole’s political career was insignificant, but his access to high places proved valuable for his manuscript Memoirs of the reigns of George II and III. His masterpiece is his huge correspondence with a series of friends to whom he directed as appropriate his society gossip, literary anecdote (he looked down on Johnson and Boswell), political commentary, and autobiography. Now available in the great Yale edition, the letters are self-conscious works of art which keep one eye on future readers.
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