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Horace Walpole to Thomas Gray, 18 February 1768

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You have sent me a long and very obliging letter, and yet I am extremely out of humour with you. I saw poems by Mr. Gray advertised: I called directly at Dodsley's to know if this was to be more than a new edition? He was not at home himself, but his foreman told me he thought there were some new pieces, and notes to the whole. It was very unkind, not only to go out of town without mentioning them to me, without showing them to me, but not to say a word of them in this letter. Do you think I am indifferent, or not curious, about what you write? I have ceased to ask you, because you have so long refused to show me any thing. You could not suppose I thought that you never write. No; but I concluded you did not intend, at least yet, to publish what you had written. As you did intend it, I might have expected a month's preference. You will do me the justice to own that I had always rather have seen your writings than have shown you mine; which you know are the most hasty trifles in the world, and which, though I may be fond of the subject when fresh, I constantly forget in a very short time after they are published. This would sound like affectation to others, but will not to you. It would be affected, even to you, to say I am indifferent to fame–I certainly am not, but I am indifferent to almost any thing I have done to acquire it. The greater part are mere compilations; and no wonder they are, as you say, incorrect, when they are commonly written with people in the room, as Richard and the Noble Authors were. But I doubt there is a more intrinsic fault in them; which is, that I cannot correct them. If I write tolerably, it must be at once; I can neither mend nor add. The articles of lord Capel and lord Peterborough, in the second edition of the Noble Authors, cost me more trouble than all the rest together: and you may perceive that the worst part of Richard, in point of ease and style, is what relates to the papers you gave me on Jane Shore, because it was tacked on so long afterwards, and when my impetus was chilled. If some time or other you will take the trouble of pointing out the inaccuracies of it, I shall be much obliged to you: at present I shall meddle no more with it. It has taken its fate: nor did I mean to complain. I found it was condemned indeed beforehand, which was what I alluded to. Since publication (as has happened to me before) the success has gone beyond my expectation.

Not only at Cambridge, but here, there have been people wise enough to think me too free with the king of Prussia! A newspaper has talked of my known inveteracy to him.–Truly, I love him as well as I do most kings. The greater offence is my reflection on lord Clarendon. It is forgotten that I had overpraised him before. Pray turn to the new State Papers, from which, it is said, he composed his history. You will find they are the papers from which he did not compose his history. And yet I admire my lord Clarendon more than these pretended admirers do. But I do not intend to justify myself. I can as little satisfy those who complain that I do not let them know what really did happen. If this inquiry can ferret out any truth, I shall be glad. I have picked up a few more circumstances. I now want to know what Perkin Warbeck's proclamation was, which Speed in his history says is preserved by bishop Leslie. If you look in Speed, perhaps you will be able to assist me.

The duke of Richmond and lord Lyttelton agree with you, that I have not disculpated Richard of the murder of Henry VI. I own to you, it is the crime of which in my own mind I believe him most guiltless. Had I thought he committed it, I should never have taken the trouble to apologize for the rest. I am not at all positive or obstinate on your other objections, nor know exactly what I believe on many points of this story. And I am so sincere, that, except a few notes hereafter, I shall leave the matter to be settled or discussed by others. As you have written much too little, I have written a great deal too much, and think only of finishing the two or three other things I have begun– and of those, nothing but the last volume of painters is designed for the present public. What has one to do when turned [of] fifty, but really think of finishing?

I am much obliged and flattered by Mr. Mason's approbation, and particularly by having had almost the same thought with him. I said, 'People need not be angry at my excusing Richard; I have not diminished their fund of hatred, I have only transferred it from Richard to Henry.'–Well, but I have found you close with Mason–No doubt, cry prating I, something will come out. –Oh! no–leave us, both of you, to Annabellas and Epistles to Ferney, that give Voltaire an account of his own tragedies, to Macarony fables that are more unintelligible than Pilpay's are in the original, to Mr. Thornton's hurdy-gurdy poetry, and to Mr. —, who has imitated himself worse than any fop in a magazine would have done. In truth, if you should abandon us, I could not wonder–When Garrick's prologues and epilogues, his own Cymons and farces, and the comedies of the fools that pay court to him, are the delight of the age, it does not deserve any thing better.

Pray read the new account of Corsica. What relates to Paoli will amuse you much. There is a deal about the island and its divisions that one does not care a straw for. The author, Boswell, is a strange being, and, like [—], has a rage of knowing any body that ever was talked of. He forced himself upon me at Paris in spite of my teeth and my doors, and I see has given a foolish account of all he could pick up from me about King Theodore. He then took an antipathy to me on Rousseau's account, abused me in the newspapers, and exhorted Rousseau to do so too: but as he came to see me no more, I forgave all the rest. I see he now is a little sick of Rousseau himself, but I hope it will not cure him of his anger to me. However, his book will I am sure entertain you.

I will add but a word or two more. I am criticized for the expression tinker up in the preface. Is this one of those that you object to? I own I think such a low expression, placed to ridicule an absurd instance of wise folly, very forcible. Replace it with an elevated word or phrase, and to my conception it becomes as flat as possible.

George Selwyn says I may, if I please, write historic doubts on the present duke of G— too. Indeed, they would be doubts, for I know nothing certainly.

Will you be so kind as to look into Leslie de rebus Scotorum, and see if Perkin's proclamation is there, and if there, how authenticated? You will find in Speed my reason for asking this.

I have written in such a hurry, I believe you will scarce be able to read my letter–and as I have just been writing French, perhaps the sense may not be clearer than the writing.

Yours ever,
Letter ID: letters.0526 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Walpole, Horace, 1717-1797
Writer's age: 50
Addressee: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Addressee's age: 51


Date of composition: 18 February 1768
Date (on letter): February 18, 1768
Calendar: Gregorian


Place of composition: London, United Kingdom
Address (on letter): Arlington-street


Language: English
Incipit: You have sent me a long and very obliging letter, and yet I am extremely...
Mentioned: Poems by Mr. Gray (1768)
Boswell, James
Clarendon, Edward Hyde, Earl of
Dodsley, James, 1724-1797
Hall-Stevenson, John
Jerningham, Edward
Keate, George
Lyttelton, George Lyttelton, 1st Lord
Rousseau, Jean Jacques
Speed, John
Thornton, Bonnell
Walpole, Horace

Holding Institution

Availability: The original letter is unlocated, a copy, transcription, or published version survives

Print Versions

  • The Works of Horatio Walpole, Earl of Orford, 5 vols. London: G. G. and J. Robinson and J. Edwards, 1798, vol. v, 371-374
  • The Correspondence of Gray, Walpole, West and Ashton (1734-1771), 2 vols. Chronologically arranged and edited with introduction, notes, and index by Paget Toynbee. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1915, letter no. 239, vol. ii, 270-276
  • The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole's Correspondence. Ed. by W. S. Lewis. New Haven, Conn.: Yale UP; London: Oxford UP, 1937-83, vols. 13/14: Horace Walpole's Correspondence with Thomas Gray, Richard West and Thomas Ashton i, 1734-42, Horace Walpole's Correspondence with Thomas Gray ii, 1745-71, ed. by W. S. Lewis, George L. Lam and Charles H. Bennett, 1948, vol. ii, 166-171
  • Correspondence of Thomas Gray, 3 vols. Ed. by the late Paget Toynbee and Leonard Whibley, with corrections and additions by H. W. Starr. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971 [1st ed. 1935], letter no. 470, vol. iii, 1013-1017