Walpole, Horace, 4th earl of Orford

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Walpole, Horace, 4th earl of Orford (1717–97). The youngest son of Sir Robert Walpole, Horace Walpole became the most gifted letter-writer in English history. When he entered Parliament in 1741 his father's long administration was tottering to its fall. Though he remained in the Commons until 1768 he made no mark and his preferred role was that of observer. The places and pensions provided by his father afforded him a comfortable bachelor existence and he lavished great attention on the Gothic villa at Strawberry Hill (Twickenham) which he purchased in 1748 and where he installed his private printing press. Much of his time was devoted to correspondence with his many friends and acquaintances. But he also wrote substantial works. The Castle of Otranto (1764) was an early example of the Gothick horror novel and Historic Doubts on Richard III (1768) fathered a minor academic industry. His Memoirs of the reigns of George II and George III were greatly used by 19th-cent. historians, but Walpole had much spite, lurid suspicions, and a taste for melodrama, which he worked into his narrative. Above all, he was chiefly responsible for the story that George III aimed at autocracy, a legend which poisoned the wells of scholarship for decades. Walpole succeeded to the peerage at the age of 74, but never took his seat in the Lords.

J. A. Cannon

Walpole, Horace, 4th Earl of Orford

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Walpole, Horace, 4th Earl of Orford (1717–97) English writer. The Gothicization of his house near London represents a milestone in architectural taste; his bizarre novel The Castle of Otranto (1764) established a parallel fashion for the Gothic in literature. Walpole's lasting reputation, however, rests on his letters, which provide a portrait of life in Georgian England.