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Horace Walpole, 4th earl of Orford

Walpole, Horace or Horatio, 4th earl of Orford, 1717–97, English author; youngest son of Sir Robert Walpole. Educated at Eton and Cambridge, he toured the Continent with his friend Thomas Gray from 1739 to 1741, when the two quarreled and parted. He was elected to Parliament in 1741 and served until 1767, confining himself largely to the role of spectator and defender of his father's memory. In 1747 he acquired a country house, Strawberry Hill, near Twickenham, where he built a pseudo-Gothic castle, which became the showplace of England. He was reconciled with Gray in 1745 and later published his friend's Pindaric odes, as well as many first editions of his own works from the private printing press he started at Strawberry Hill in 1757. Walpole's literary reputation rests primarily on his letters, which have great charm and polish and are invaluable pictures of Georgian England. More than 3,000 of his correspondences are extant and cover a period extending from 1732 to 1797. Among his more famous correspondents are Gray, Sir Horace Mann, Thomas Chatterton, and Mme Du Deffand. Walpole succeeded to the earldom of Orford in 1791. Besides his enthusiasm for medieval architecture and trappings, he anticipated the romanticism of the 19th cent. with his Gothic romance The Castle of Otranto (1765). His other important works include Historic Doubts on Richard III (1768), an attempt to rehabilitate the character of Richard; Anecdotes of Painting in England (4 vol., 1762–71); and posthumous works, Reminiscences (1798) and memoirs of the reigns of George II (1822) and George III (1845, 1859).

See Yale edition of the letters ed. by W. S. Lewis (vol. 1–48; 1937–83).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: English Literature, 1500 to 1799: Biographies


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