Fun House Frolics; Richard Edmonds Is Delighted by an Insight into Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill Home

The Birmingham Post (England), January 14, 2010 | Go to article overview
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Fun House Frolics; Richard Edmonds Is Delighted by an Insight into Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill Home


Byline: Richard Edmonds

Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill Edited by Michael Snodin (Yale pounds 40) Horace Walpole (1717-97) flourished at the heart of the 18th century. Bitchy, witty, snobbish and above all else the prince of English letter-writers, Walpole emerges gradually but clearly through the several essays which make up this beautiful illustrated book set around Walpole's house at Strawberry Hill.

The house was a magnet for poets, writers, actors, artists, politicians and society figures who brought gossip and news down from London. Among them were the poet, Thomas Gray, whose celebrated work Elegy in a Country Churchyard, might never have been written or published without Walpole's encour-r agement and support, the actress Kitty Clive - huge and deeply funny - who ended her days in a cottage on the Strawberry Hill estate benefacted by Walpole, who adored her, George II's mistress, Lady Suffolk, who entertained Walpole's dinner guests with wicked stories of her days in the royal limelight, and many more.

But the visitors left their own anecdotes behind along with the latest news, all of which Walpole collected in his notebooks (often more caustic and vicious than the carefully edited diaries suggest). For example, one of Walpole's circle of friends was George Selwyn, celebrated for his wit, his languid manner and his obsession with necrophilia!

"If Mr Selwyn calls in," said the politician Charles James Fox, when he was dying, "show him up. If I'm alive I'll be pleased to see him, and if I've died, he'll certainly be pleased to see me."

But at the centre of all this hubbub of conflicting and contrasting personalities was Walpole himself, industrious and clever. In fact, Walpole's works of garden and art history (the Essay On Modern Garden-n ing, published in 1780, for example) are still in use today and of course everything centred on Strawberry Hill - still with us and near the Thames at Twickenham.

Visitors to this gorgeous Gothic folly abounded and during its building and later when it was a show-w piece of antiques and curiosities, Walpole was continuingly besieged by both connoisseurs and the simple sightseer, all of them anxious to criticise or praise the extraordinary building Walpole had erected with its castellated roof and Gothic pinnacles.

"My house is full of people and has been so from the instant I breakfasted and more are coming," complained Walpole in September 1763 as the house moved towards completion.

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