Horace Walpole - Writings

Writings

Strawberry Hill had its own printing press which supported Horace Walpole's intensive literary activity.

In 1764, not using his own press, he anonymously published his Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto, claiming on its title page that it was a translation "from the Original Italian of Onuphirio Muralto". The second edition's preface, according to James Watt, "has often been regarded as a manifesto for the modern Gothic romance, stating that his work, now subtitled 'A Gothic Story', sought to restore the qualities of imagination and invention to contemporary fiction". However, there is a playfulness in the prefaces to both editions and in the narration within the text itself. The novel opens with the son of Manfred (the Prince of Otranto) being crushed under a massive helmet that appears as a result of supernatural causes. However, that moment, along with the rest of the unfolding plot, includes a mixture of both ridiculous and sublime supernatural elements. The plot finally reveals how Manfred's family is tainted in a way that served as a model for successive Gothic plots.

From 1762 on, Walpole published his Anecdotes of Painting in England, based on George Vertue's manuscript notes. His memoirs of the Georgian social and political scene, though heavily biased, are a useful primary source for historians.

Walpole's numerous letters are similarly useful as a historical resource. In one, dating from 28 January 1754, he coined the word serendipity which he said was derived from a "silly fairy tale" he had read, The Three Princes of Serendip. The oft-quoted epigram, "This world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel", is from a letter of Walpole's to Anne, Countess of Ossory, on 16 August 1776. The original, fuller version appeared in a letter to Sir Horace Mann on 31 December 1769: "I have often said, and oftener think, that this world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel – a solution of why Democritus laughed and Heraclitus wept."

In Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard III (1768), Walpole defended Richard III against the common belief that he murdered the Princes in the Tower. In this he has been followed by other writers, such as Josephine Tey and Valerie Anand. This work, according to Emile Legouis, shows that Walpole was "capable of critical initiative".

Major Works
  • Some Anecdotes of Painting in England (1762)
  • The Castle of Otranto (1764)
  • The Mysterious Mother (1768)
  • Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of Richard III (1768)
  • On Modern Gardening (1780)
  • A Description of the Villa of Mr. Horace Walpole (1784)
  • Hieroglyphic Tales (1785)

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