Horace Walpole Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

A brilliant essayist, historian, and letter-writer and a notable novelist, dramatist, and amateur antiquary, Horace (christened Horatio) Walpole (WAWL-pohl) was born in London on September 24, 1717. He was the third son and youngest child of Catherine Shorter and Sir Robert Walpole, the great eighteenth century British prime minister. Walpole was raised at Houghton Hall, a miniature palace that had an art collection rivaling the best in Italy and a seminaturalistic garden that provided Walpole with a frame of mind through which he later looked on life. The grand scale of the building seems to have convinced Master Walpole that he belonged to the nobility.

At the age of ten Walpole was sent to Eton, where he formed friendships with boys like Thomas Ashton, Henry Conway, Thomas Gray, and Richard West and belonged to the Quadruple Alliance, a literary group whose members included Gray and West. This involvement stimulated Walpole’s love of literature. After graduating from Eton, Walpole went to Cambridge. In March of 1739 he left Cambridge without earning a degree and invited Gray to be his companion on a Grand Tour of the Continent, which lasted about two and a half years. The Grand Tour has been regarded as one of the major events of Walpole’s life. It gave him the friendship of the famous American Horace Mann, whom Walpole met in Florence and with whom he corresponded extensively for the next fifty years of his life, although he never saw him again; his correspondence with Mann was the largest of his many correspondences. The tour also furnished Walpole with the friendship of John Chute, who later helped him design his toy castle Strawberry Hill. Furthermore, it provided Walpole with a perspective with which to create the Italian settings for The Castle of Otranto and The Mysterious Mother.

Following his return to England, Walpole became a member of Parliament, serving from 1741 to 1768. In 1748 he purchased a cottage in Twickenham, which for the remainder of his life he spent remodeling into a pseudo-Gothic castle. Strawberry Hill became famous as Walpole’s home, as the center of his enthusiasm for Gothic architecture, as the home of Strawberry Hill Press, and as a kind of park-museum-showplace. By his work on Strawberry Hill, Walpole—an eighteenth century celebrity who knew...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Brownell, Morris. The Prime Minister of Taste: A Portrait of Horace Walpole. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2001. A biography focusing on Walpole’s career as a collector and patron of the arts.

Fothergill, Brian. The Strawberry Hill Set: Horace Walpole and His Circle. Boston: Faber and Faber, 1983. An intellectual biography and sociological study of Walpole in the context of his time.

Jacobs, Edward H. Accidental Migrations: An Archeology of Gothic Discourse. Lewisberg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 2000. Evaluates Walpole’s contribution to the development of the gothic genre.

Kallich, Martin. Horace Walpole. Boston: Twayne, 1971. A solid bio-critical study of Walpole. It contains a useful chronology and chapters on Walpole’s life, his political career, and his role as a social butterfly in eighteenth century England, as well as analyses of The Castle of Otranto, The Mysterious Mother, and Hieroglyphic Tales.

Ketton-Cremer, R. W. Horace Walpole: A Biography. 3d ed. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1964. The standard biography of Walpole.

Mowl, Timothy. Horace Walpole: The Great Outsider. London: Murray, 1996. An intellectual biography emphasizing Walpole as a legislator, writer, collector, and homosexual.

Sabor, Peter, ed. Horace Walpole: The Collected Critical Heritage, Eighteenth Century. New York: Routledge, 1996. A substantial collection of critical essays on Walpole’s works.

Van Luchene, Stephen Robert. “The Castle of Otranto.” In Essays in Gothic Fiction from Horace Walpole to Mary Shelley. New York: Arno Press, 1980. Considers The Castle of Otranto’s influence on gothic fiction to be threefold: It ushered in stock characters, established set narrative techniques, and conveyed an idealized view of the Middle Ages.