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While it is in the power of the Directors of the Bank of England to increase or diminish the currency of the country at their pleasure, no person can form any probable estimate of the value of his property at any period but a little remote. The estate that is purchased to-day, and reckoned a good bargain, may, by the Bank's limiting its discounts, or withdrawing its notes from circulation, be rendered, in a very short time, not worth half the sum paid for it: And, on the contrary, if the Directors were more liberal in granting discounts, and increased the number of their notes in circulation, either by lending to the State or to individuals, the estate might speedily become worth double the money, that is, double the paper it had been sold for. This artificial and unnatural system, renders the money value of all the property in the empire dependent on the views and opinions-the whims and caprices-of twenty-four individuals. It is their fiat alone which makes one transaction good, and another bad. They hold the scale of value, and change its graduation as they judge proper.
The fate that attended the late issue of three millions of sovereigns, not one of which remained in circulation three months afterwards, will, we should hope, prevent any further attempts to make gold coins of the legal weight and fineness, circulate in company with an inconvertible paper. Nothing but rendering bank notes exchangeable for cash or bullion, can possibly restore the currency to a sound state. Every other scheme for the accomplishment of this most desirable object, will be found completely delusive and ineffectual.
ART. IV. LETTERS from the Hon. HORACE WALPOLE to GEORGE MONTAGU, Esq. From the Year 1736 to 1770. 4to. pp. 446. London, Rodwell & Martin.
ORACE WALPOLE was by no means a venerable or lofty character:-But he has here left us another volume of gay and graceful letters, which, though they indicate no peculiar originality of mind, or depth of thought, and are continually at variance with good taste and right feeling, still give a lively and amusing view of the time in which he lived. He was indeed a garrulous old man nearly all his days; and, luckily for his gossiping propensities, he was on familiar terins with the gay world, and set down as a man of genius by the Princess Amelia, George Selwyn, Mr Chute, and all persons of the like talents and importance. His descriptions of court dresses, court
revels, and court beauties, are in the highest style of perfection, -sprightly, fantastic and elegant: And the zeal with which he hunts after an old portrait or a piece of broken glass, is ten times more entertaining than if it were lavished on a worthier object. He is indeed the very prince of Gossips,—and it is impossible to question his supremacy, when he floats us along in a stream of bright talk, or shoots with us the rapids of polite conversation. He delights in the small squabbles of great politicians and the puns of George Selwyn,-enjoys to madness the strife of loo with half a dozen bitter old women of quality,—revels in a world of chests, cabinets, commodes, tables, boxes, turrets, stands, old printing, and old china,and indeed lets us loose at once amongst all the frippery and folly of the last two centuries, with an ease and a courtesy equally amazing and delightful. His mind, as well as his house, was piled up with Dresden china, and illuminated through painted glass; and we look upon his heart to have been little better than a case full of enamels, painted eggs, ambers, lapislazuli, cameos, vases and rock-crystals. This may in some degree account for his odd and quaint manner of thinking, and his utter poverty of feeling :-He could not get a plain thought out of that cabinet of curiosities, his mind; and he had no room for feeling,-no place to plant it in, or leisure to cultivate it. He was at all times the slave of elegant trifles; and could no more screw himself up into a decided and solid personage, than he could divest himself of petty jealousies and miniature animosities. In one word, every thing about him was in little; and the smaller the object, and the less its importance, the higher did his estimation and his praises of it ascend. He piled up trifles to a colossal height-and made a pyramid of nothings
most marvellous to see.
His political character was a heap of confusion: but the key to it is easy enough to find. He united an insufferable deal of aristocratical pretension with Whig professions,--and, under an assumed carelessness and liberality, he nourished a petty anxiety about court movements and a degree of rancour towards those who profited by them, which we should only look for in the most acknowledged sycophants of Government. He held out austere and barren principles, in short, to the admiration of the world, but indemnified himself in practice by the indulgence of all the opposite ones. He wore his horse-hair shirt as an outer garment; and glimpses might always be caught of a silken garment within. He was truly of outward show elaborate; of inward less exact.' But, setting his political character or rather the want of it-and some few private failings, and a good many F
VOL. XXXI. NO. 61.
other questionable peculiarities, aside, we find Walpole an amusing companion, and should like to have such a chronicler of small matters every fifty or sixty years; or it might be better, perhaps, if, like the aloe, they should blossom but once in a century. With what spirit does he speak of the gay and noble visitors at Strawberry Hill! How finely does he group, in his letters, the high-born and celebrated beauties of the court, with whom it was his fortune and his fancy to associate!
Strawberry Hill is grown a perfect Paphos; it is the land of beauties. On Wednesday, the Dutchesses of Hamilton and Richmond, and Lady Ailesbury, dined there; the two latter staid all night. There never was so pretty a sight as to see them all sitting in the shell. A thousand years hence, when I begin to grow old, if that can ever be, I shall talk of that event, and tell young people how much handsomer the women of my time were than they will be. Then I shall say, "Women alter now: I remember Lady Ailesbury looking handsomer than her daughter the pretty Dutchess of Richmond, as they were sitting in the shell on my terrace, with the Dutchess of Richmond, one of the famous Gunnings, " &c. &c. Yesterday, t'other famous Gunning dined there. She has made a friendship with my charming niece, to disguise her jealousy of the new Countess's beauty: there were they two, their Lords, Lord Buckingham, and Charlotte. You will think that I did not choose men for my parties so well as women. I don't include Lord Waldegrave in
this bad election.
All the rest is in the same style: and lords and ladies are shuffled about the whole work as freely as court cards in a party at Loo. Horace Walpole, to be sure, is always Pam: but this only makes the interest greater, and the garrulity more splendid. He is equally sprightly and facetious, whether he describes a King's death and funeral, or a quirk of George Selwyn; and is nearly as amusing when he recounts the follies and the fashions of the day, as when he affects to be patriotic, or solemnizes into the sentimental. His style is not a bit less airy when he deals with the horrid story of Lord Ferrers's murdering his steward, than when it informs us that Miss Chudleigh has called for the council books of the subscription concert, and has struck off the name of Mrs Naylor.' He is equally amusing whether he records the death of the brave Balmerino, or informs us that old Dunch is dead.'
The letters of eminent men make, to our taste, very choice and curious reading; and, except when their publication becomes a breach of honour or decorum, we are always rejoiced to meet with them in print. We should except, perhaps, the letters of celebrated warriors; which, for the most part, should only be published in the Gazette. But, setting these heroes
aside, whose wits, Pope has informed us, are kept in ponderous vases,' letters are certainly the honestest records of great minds, that we can become acquainted with; and we like them the more, for letting us into the follies and treacheries of high life, the secrets of the gay and the learned world, and the mysteries of authorship. We are ushered, as it were, behind the scenes of life; and see gay ladies and learned men, the wise, the witty, and the ambitious, in all the nakedness, or undress at least, of their spirits. A poet, in his private letters, seldom thinks it necessary to keep up the farce of feeling: but casts off the trickery of sentiment, and glides into the unaffected wit, or sobers quietly into the honest man. By his published works, we know that an author becomes a Sir John with all Europe; and it can only be by his letters that we discover him to be Jack with his brothers and sisters, and John with his familiars." This it is that makes the private letters of a literary person so generally entertaining. He is glad to escape from the austerity of composition, and the orthodoxy of thought; and feels a relief in easy speculations or ludicrous expressions. The finest, perhaps, in our language, are eminently of this descriptionwe mean those of Gray to his friends or literary associates. His poetry is too scholastic and elaborate, and is too visibly the result of laborious and anxious study. But, in his letters, he at once becomes an easy, and graceful, and feeling writer. The composition of familiar letters just suited his indolence, his taste, and his humour. His remarks on poetry are nearly as good as poetry itself; his observations on life are full of sagacity and fine understanding; and his descriptions of natural scenery, or Gothic antiquities, are worth their weight in gold. Pope's letters, though extremely elegant, are failures as letters. He wrote them to the world, not to his friends; and they have therefore very much the air of universal secrets. Swift has recorded his own sour mind in many a bitter epistle; and his correspondence remains a stern and a brief chronicle of the time in which he lived. Cowper hath unwittingly beguiled us of many a long hour, by his letters to Lady Hesketh; and in them we see the fluctuations of his melancholy nature more plainly, than in all the biographical dissertations of his affectionate editor.But we must not make catalogues,-nor indulge longer in this eulogy on letter-writing. We take a particular interest, we confess, in what is thus spoken aside, as it were, and without a consciousness of being overheard;-and think there is a spirit and freedom in the tone of works written for the post, which is scarcely ever to be found in those written for the press.
We are much more edified by one letter of Cowper, than we should be by a week's confinement and hard labour in the metaphysical Bridewell of Mr Coleridge; and a single letter from the pen of Gray, is worth all the pedlar-reasoning of Mr Wordsworth's Eternal Recluse, from the hour he first squats himself down in the sun to the end of his preaching. In the first we have the light unstudied pleasantries of a wit, and a man of feeling;-in the last we are talked to death by an arrogant old proser, and buried in a heap of the most perilous stuff and the most dusty philosophy.
But to come back to the work before us.-Walpole evidently formed his style upon that of Gray, with whom he travelled; and, with his own fund of pleasantry and sarcasm, we know of no other writer whom he could so successfully have studied. There are some odd passages on Gray, scattered up and down the present volume, which speak more for the poet than for the justice or friendship of Walpole. In one letter he says,
The first volume of Spencer is published with prints designed by Kent; but the most execrable performance you ever beheld. The graving not worse than the drawing; awkward knights, scrambling Unas, hills tumbling down themselves, no variety of prospect, and three or four perpetual spruce firs. Our charming Mr Bentley is doing Mr Gray as much more honour as he deserves than Spencer!' This is indeed a lordly criticism. We really never saw so much bad taste condensed into so small a portion of prose. But he next shows us what ladies of the court think of men of letters, and how lords defend them.
My Lady Ailesbury has been much diverted, and so will you too. Gray is in their neighbourhood. My Lady Carlisle says he is extremely like me in his manner. They went a party to dine on a cold loaf, and passed the day. Lady A. protests he never opened his lips but once, and then only said, " Yes, my Lady, I believe so.
I agree with you most absolutely in your opinion about Gray; he is the worst company in the world. From a melancholy turn, from living reclusely, and from a little too much dignity, he never converses easily. All his words are measured and chosen, and formed into sentences. His writings are admirable. He himself is not agreeable.
But it is not only to his particular friends that he is thus amiably candid. Two other great names are dealt with in the same spirit in the following short sentence.
Dr Young has published a new book, on purpose, he says himself, to have an opportunity of telling a story that he has known these forty years. Mr Addison sent for the young Lord Warwick, as he was dying, to show him in what peace a Christian could die. Unluckily he died of brandy. Nothing makes a Christian die in