×

HORACE WALPOLE

1717-1797
British

"The world is a tragedy to those who feel,
but a comedy to those who think"

Horatio Walpole, later Horace Walpole, was born in London on 24 September 1717 to Sir Robert Walpole, the British Prime Minister, and Catherine Shorter.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Walpole was educated at Eton College and King’s College, Cambridge. However, Walpole left Cambridge at the end of 1738, without completing a degree. Walpole’s mother died in 1737. According to one biographer, Walpole’s love for his mother was the most powerful emotion of his entire life...the whole of his psychological history was dominated by it. Walpole never married and did not have any serious relationships with women. As a consequence, his sexual orientation has been the subject of much speculation. He has been described by some as a natural celibate and is considered by some to have been asexual.

Walpole’s father secured him three positions which required him to do very little work, but gained him a healthy income. In 1737, Walpole was appointed Inspector of the Imports and Exports in the Custom House. He resigned this post in order to become Usher of the Exchequer and later became Comptroller of the Pipe and Clerk of the Estreats (who receives the estreats from the remembrancer's office). In 1739, Walpole decided to go travelling with a friend, Thomas Gray, and travelled through France and Italy. They returned to Florence in July 1740. However, Gray disliked the idleness of Florence as compared to the educational pursuits in Rome, and an animosity grew between them, eventually leading to an end of their friendship. Walpole then went on to travel alone to Venice, Genoa, Antibes, Toulon, Marseilles, Aix, Montpellier, Toulouse, Orleans, and Paris. He finally landed at Dover on 12 September 1741, reaching London on the 14th.

Walpole entered politics shortly before his father’s fall from power. In 1741, Walpole was elected Whig Member of Parliament for Callington, Cornwall. Despite holding this seat for thirteen years, Walpole never visited Callington. Between 1742 - 1745, Walpole spent most of his time with his father at his country house, Houghton Hall in Norfolk. His father died in 1745, leaving substantial debts.

Walpole’s father had been given the title of Earl of Orford in 1742. Horace's elder brother, the 2nd Earl of Orford (c.1701–1751), passed the title on to his son, the 3rd Earl of Orford (1730–1791). When the 3rd Earl died unmarried, Horace Walpole became the 4th Earl of Orford, and the title died with him in 1797.

Walpole's lasting architectural creation is Strawberry Hill, the home he built in Twickenham, south west of London, in which he revived the Gothic style many decades before his Victorian successors, creating a new architectural trend. Strawberry Hill had its own printing press which supported Horace Walpole's intensive literary activity.

From 1762 on, Walpole published his Anecdotes of Painting in England. His memoirs of the Georgian social and political scene are a useful primary source for historians. In 1764, not using his own press, Walpole anonymously published his Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto (1764), claiming on its title page that it was a translation from the Original Italian of Onuphirio Muralto. Horace Walpole is credited by literary scholars as one of the founders of the gothic novel. Historians of the eighteenth century know him as a diarist and letter writer and art historians recognize him as a promoter of the Gothic in architecture.

Gout and recurring attacks of rheumatism had dogged Walpole for years and on 02 March 1797, at his London house in Berkeley Square, he died. Walpole was buried in the family tomb at St. Martin's Church, New Houghton, Norfolk, England.

TITLES BY HORACE WALPOLE

Author image