Horace Walpole to John Pinkerton, 1794

Thursday 22 October 2020

In the next part of our series highlighting the Marseille Middleton Holloway autograph albums, gifted to the University Library a few years ago, we take a look at the letter from Horace Walpole to John Pinkerton, 1794.

In this 1794 letter to the Scottish antiquary John Pinkerton, Horace Walpole (1717-1797) writes from his house in Berkeley Square, turning down an offer of a painting on the grounds that

“I am really much too old now to be hunting what I may have few moments to possess.”

The youngest son of the powerful Whig Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole, Horace grew up at the centre of Georgian society and politics and circulated among the elite literary, aesthetic and intellectual circles of his time. He left over 3,000 letters which are a vivid commentary on his time. He succeeded in 1791 as 4th Earl of Orford.

The writer Letitia Hawkins remembered Walpole:

“His figure was not merely tall, but more properly long and slender to excess: his complexion and particularly his hands of a most unhealthy paleness . . . he always entered a room in that style of affected delicacy, which fashion had then made almost natural . . . knees bent and feet on tip toe as if afraid of a wet floor”.

Watercolour of Strawberry Hill by Sylvester Harding (1745-1809). In creating Strawberry Hill, Walpole inspired a new fashion for Gothic in both architecture and literature (ms39022/2).

In his own day, Walpole was most famous for his extraordinary collections of rare books and manuscripts, antiquities, paintings, furniture and curiosities, all displayed at his Gothic Revival retreat, Strawberry Hill, on the banks of the Thames at Twickenham. Strawberry Hill became a tourist attraction in Walpole’s lifetime. He allowed four visitors a day (no children allowed) and published rules for their guidance.

Engraving of the real-life castle at Otranto from The works of Horatio Walpole, Earl of Orford. In five volumes. (sf PR3757.W2D98)

One night Walpole awoke from a dream and imagined he saw a giant armoured fist on the staircase and it was this that inspired the first Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto. Printed in 1764 on the first private printing press in the country at Strawberry Hill, it was the inspiration for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.






1 thoughts on "Horace Walpole to John Pinkerton, 1794"

  • Susan Walker
    Susan Walker
    Thursday 22 October 2020, 3.26pm

    How wonderful to see the original letter and accompanying view of Strawberry Hill in this volume. The letter was published in the Yale Edition of Horace Walpole's Correspondence while still held privately. http://images.library.yale.edu/hwcorrespondence/page.asp?vol=16&seq=360&type=b


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