Horace Walpole
The Castle of Otranto

Horace, the fourth son of Sir Robert Walpole, was born at 17 Arlington Street, London, on 24 September, 1717. He spent the greater part of his boyhood at his father’s house in Chelsea, a building that is now incorporated in Chelsea Hospital. At Eton Walpole did not distinguish himself in any way. After leaving King’s College, Cambridge, in 1737, his father appointed him Inspector of Imports and Exports in the Customs House and, in the following year, Usher to the Exchequer. In 1739 he began the usual grand tour of the Continent, in company with the poet Gray, returning to England in 1741. His father died in 1745 and, in 1747, Walpole settled at “a little plaything house” close to the river at Twickenham, which, with the assistance of John Chute and Richard Bentley (and later Wyatt), he transformed into “a little Gothic castle.” These alterations, begun in 1748, were completed by 1776. Of all the Gothic Revival buildings in England, Strawberry Hill was the most influential and remains the most charming. Here Walpole installed a private printing press, from which he issued many of his own works and Thomas Gray’s The Bard. Although never really interested in politics, he stood for Callington in 1741, a seat which he exchanged for that of Castle Rising in 1753. In 1757 he attempted to save the life of the unfortunate Admiral Byng, and in the same year became a member for King’s Lynn. Between 1764 and 1767 he acted as advisor to his cousin, the Hon. H. S. Conway. He went to Paris in 1765, where he formed a friendship with Madame du Deffand, his most exquisite correspondent. His comedy Nature Will Prevail was acted with considerable success at the Haymarket Theatre. He never married. Strawberry Hill remained the passion of his life. His voluminous and vivacious correspondence gives an unrivalled picture of his age. He became the fourth Earl of Orford in 1791 and died at what was then 40 Berkeley Square on 2 March, 1797.

Among his books printed at Strawberry Hill are: A Letter from Xo Ho, 1757; A Catalogue of the Royal and Noble Authors of England, 1758; Fugitive Pieces in Verse and Prose, 1758; Anecdotes of Painting in England, 1762; The Mysterious Mother, A Tragedy, 1768; A Description and Inventory of the Villa of Horace Walpole, 1774; Essay on Modern Gardening, 1785.

A. T. Hazen, A Bibliography of Horace Walpole, 1948; Letters, ed. by Mrs. Paget Toynbee, 16 vols., 1903-5, with three supplementary vols. ed. by Paget Toynbee, 1918-25; the Yale Edition of the Correspondence, ed. by W. S. Lewis, 16 vols., 1937-52; Selected Letters, ed. by W. Hadley (Everyman’s Library), 1926; also selected edition by W. S. Lewis, Folio Society, 1951.

The Castle of Otranto, ed. by Caroline Spurgeon, 1907; by Montague Summers, 1924; by Osward Doughty, 1929. Lives by: Austin Dobson, 1890; Stephen Gwynn, 1932; R. W. Ketton-Cremer, 1940. See also Sir Walter Scott, Lives of the Novelists; Montague Summers, The Gothic Quest, 1938.

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