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Two Antiquaries
  Two Antiquaries: Walpole and ColeSince to criticize the Yale edition of Horace Walpole’s letters to Cole is impossible, for there cannot in the whole universe exist a single human being whose praise or blame of such minute and monumental learning can be of any value — if such exists his knowledge has been tapped already — the only course for the reader is to say nothing about the learning and the industry, the devotion and the skill which have created these two huge volumes, and to record merely such fleeting thoughts as have formed in the mind from a single reading. To encourage our selves, let us assert, though not with entire confidence, that books after all exist to be read — even the most learned of editors would to some extent at least agree with that. But how, the question immediately arises, can we read this magnificent instalment — for these are but the first two volumes of this edition in which Mr. Lewis will give us the complete correspondence — of our old friend Horace Walpole’s letters? Ought not the presses to have issued in a supplementary pocket a supplementary pair of eyes? Then, with the usual pair fixed upon the text, the additional pair could range the notes, thus sweeping together into one haul not only what Horace is saying to Cole and what Cole is saying to Horace, but a multitude of minor men and matters: for example, Thomas Farmer, who ran away and left two girls with child; Thomas Wood, who was never drunk but had a bad constitution and was therefore left fifty pounds and bed and furniture in Cole’s will; Cole’s broken leg, how it was broken, and why it was badly mended; Birch, who had (it is thought) an apoplectic fit riding in the Hampstead Road, fell from his horse, and died; Thomas Western (1695–1754), who was one of the pall-bearers at the funeral of Cole’s father; Cole’s niece, the daughter of a wholesale cheesemonger; John Woodyer, a man of placid disposition and great probity; Mrs. Allen Hopkins, who was born Mary Thornhill; and, Lord Montfort, who — but if we want to know more about that nobleman, his lions and tigers and his “high-spirited and riotous behaviour,” we must look it up for ourselves in the Harwicke MSS. in the British Museum. There are limits even to Mr. Lewis.

This little haul, taken at random, is enough to show how great a strain the new method of editing lays upon the eye. But if the brain is at first inclined to jib at such perpetual solicitations, and to beg to be allowed to read the text in peace, it adjusts itself by degrees; grudgingly admits that many of these little facts are to the point; and finally becomes not merely a convert but a suppliant — asks not for less but for more and more and more. Why, to take one instance only, is not the name of Cole’s temporary cook’s sister divulged? Thomas Wood was his servant; Thomas was left fifty pounds and allowed Cole’s coach to run away; Thomas’s younger brother James, known as “Jem,” ran errands successfully and had a child ready to be sworn to him; their sister, Molly, was for one month at least a cook and helped in the kitchen. But there was another sister and, after learning all about the Woods, it is positively painful not to know at least her Christian name.

Yet it may be asked, what has the name of Cole’s cook’s sister got to do with Horace Walpole? That is a question which it is impossible to answer briefly; but it is proof of the editor’s triumph, justification of his system, and a complete vindication of his immense labour that he has convinced us, long before the end, that somehow or other it all hangs together. The only way to read letters is to read them thus stereoscopically. Horace is partly Cole; Cole is partly Horace; Cole’s cook is partly Cole; therefore Horace Walpole is partly Cole’s cook’s sister. Horace, the whole Horace, is made up of innumerable facts and reflections of facts. Each is infinitely minute; yet each is essential to the other. To elicit them and relate them is out of the question. Let us, then, concentrate for a moment upon the two main figures, in outline.

We have here, then, in conjunction the Honourable Horace Walpole and the Reverend William Cole. But they were two very different people. Cole, it is true, had been at Eton with Horace, where he was called by the famous Walpole group “Tozhy,” but he was not a member of that group, and socially he was greatly Walpole’s inferior. His father was a farmer, Horace’s father was a Prime Minister. Cole’s niece was the daughter of a cheesemonger; Horace’s niece married a Prince of the Blood Royal. But Cole was a man of solid good sense who made no bones of this disparity, and, after leaving Eton and Cambridge, he had become, in his quiet frequently flooded parsonage, one of the first antiquaries of the time. It was this common passion that brought the two friends together again.

For some reason, obscurely hidden in the psychology of the human race, the middle years of that eighteenth century which seems now a haven of bright calm and serene civilization, affected some who actually lived in it with a longing to escape — from its politics, from its wars, from its follies, from its drabness and its dullness, to the superior charms of the Middle Ages. “I . . . hope,” wrote Cole in 1765, “by the latter end of the week to be among my admired friends of the twelfth or thirteenth century. Indeed you judge very right concerning my indifference about what is going forward in the world, where I live in it as though I was no way concerned about it except in paying, with my contemporaries, the usual taxes and impositions. In good truth I am very indifferent about my Lord Bute or Mr. Pitt, as I have long been convinced and satisfied in my own mind that all oppositions are from the ins and the outs, and that power and wealth and dignity are the things struggled for, not the good of the whole. . . . I hope what I have said will not be offensive.” Only one weekly newspaper, the CAMBRIDGE CHRONICLE, brought him news of the present moment. There at Bletchley or at Milton he sat secluded, wrapped up from the least draught, for he was terribly subject to sore throats; sometimes issuing forth to conduct a service, for he was, incidentally, a clergyman; driving occasionally to Cambridge to hobnob with his cronies; but always returning with delight to his study, where he copied maps, filled in coats of arms, and pored assiduously over those budgets of old manuscripts which were, as he said, “wife and children” to him. Now and again, it is true, he looked out of the window at the antics of his dog, for whose future he was careful to provide, or at those guinea fowl whose eggs he begged off Horace — for “I have so few amusements and can see these creatures from my study window when I can’t stir out of my room.”

But neither dog nor guinea fowl seriously distracted him. The hundred and fourteen folio volumes left by him to the British Museum testify to his professional industry. And it was precisely that quality — his professional industry — that brought the two so dissimilar men together. For Horace Walpole was by temperament an amateur. He was not, Cole admitted, “a true, genuine antiquary”; nor did he think himself one. “Then I have a wicked quality in an antiquary, nay one that annihilates the essence; that is, I cannot bring myself to a habit of minute accuracy about very indifferent points,” Horace admitted. “. . . I bequeath free leave of correction to the microscopic intellects of my continuators.” But he had what Cole lacked — imagination, taste, style, in addition to a passion for the romantic past, so long as that romantic past was also a civilized past, for mere “bumps in the ground” or “barrows and tumuli and Roman camps” bored him to death. Above all, he had a purse long enough to give visible and tangible expression — in prints, in gates, in Gothic temples, in bowers, in old manuscripts, in a thousand gimcracks and “brittle transitory relics” to the smouldering and inarticulate passion that drove the professional antiquary to delve like some indefatigable mole underground in the darkness of the past. Horace liked his brittle relics to be pretty, and to be authentic, and he was always eager to be put on the track of more.

The greater part of the correspondence thus is concerned with antiquaries’ gossip; with parish registers and cartularies; with coats of arms and the Christian names of bishops; with the marriages of kings’ daughters; skeletons and prints; old gold rings found in a field; dates and genealogies; antique chairs in Fen farmhouses; bits of stained glass and old Apostle spoons. For Horace was furnishing Strawberry Hill; and Cole was prodigiously adept at stuffing it, until there was scarcely room to stick another knife or fork, and the gorged owner of all this priceless lumber had to cry out: “I shudder when the bell rings at the gate. It is as bad as keeping an inn.” All the week he was plagued with staring crowds.

Were this all it would be, and indeed it sometimes is, a little monotonous. But they were two very different men. They struck unexpected sparks in one another. Cole’s Walpole was not Conway’s Walpole; nor was Walpole’s Cole the good-natured old parson of the diary. Cole, of course, stressed the antiquary in Walpole; but he also brought out very clearly the limits of the antiquary in Walpole. Against Cole’s monolithic passion his own appears............
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