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each was equally remote from reason, yet the latter had something in it more amusing, as well as more awakening to the imagination. The current popular tales of elves and fairies were even fitter to take the credulous mind, and charm it into a willing admiration of the specious miracles which wayward fancy delights in, than those of the old traditionary rabble of pagan divinities. And then, for the more solemn fancies of witchcraft and incantation, the horrors of the Gothic were above measure striking and terrible. The mummeries of the pagan priests were childish, but the Gothic enchanters shook and alarmed all nature.
We feel this difference very sensibly, in reading the ancient and modern poets. You would not compare the Canidia of Horace with the Witches of Macbeth. And what are Virgil's myrtles dropping blood, to Tasso's enchanted forest? ...
Without more words you will readily apprehend that the fancies of our modern bards are not only more gallant, but, on a change of the scene, more sublime, more terrible, more alarming, than those of the classic fablers. In a word, you will find that the manners they paint, and the superstitions they adopt, are the more poetical for being Gothic.
. . . At length the magic of the old romances was perfectly dissolved. They began with reflecting an image, indeed, of the feudal manners, but an image magnified and distorted by unskillful designers. Common sense being offended with these perversions of truth and nature (still accounted the more monstrous, as the ancient manners they pretended to copy after were now disused, and of most men forgotten), the next step was to have recourse to allegories. Under this disguise they walked the world a while, the excellence of the moral and the ingenuity of the contrivance making some amends, and being accepted as a sort of apology, for the absurdity of the literal story.
Under this form the tales of fairy kept their ground, and even made their fortune at court, where they became, for two or three reigns, the ordinary entertainment of our princes. But reason in the end (assisted, however, by party and religious prejudices) drove them off the scene, and would endure these lying wonders neither in their own proper shape nor as masked in figures.
Henceforth the taste of wit and poetry took a new turn, and fancy, that had wantoned it so long in the world of fiction, was now constrained, against her will, to ally herself with strict truth, if she would gain admittance into reasonable company.
What we have gotten by this revolution, you will say, is a great deal of good sense. What we have lost is a world of fine fabling, the illusion of which is so grateful to the charmed spirit that, in spite of philosophy and fashion, Fairy Spenser still ranks highest among the poets, – I mean with all those who are either come of that house, or have any kindness for it. ...
(Walpole's letters cover a very long period, and form the most numerous of the collections of this letter-loving century. The largest number of them were addressed to his friends George Montagu, Sir Horace Mann, and Henry Conway. Those to Mann came back into Walpole's possession, and he edited them and bequeathed them to a friend, the son of Lady Waldegrave, to be opened when he should reach the age of 25. This occurred in 1810, and the letters were published in 1833. Meantime a portion of his correspondence had been published in 1798, in the year following his death, and other collections have appeared at intervals up to 1905. The edition made by Cunningham (1857-59) includes 2665 letters, and the latest (by Mrs. Paget Toynbee) adds many more.)
TO SIR HORACE MANN
WINDSOR, August 21, 1746. I CAME from town(for take notice, I put this place upon myself for the country) the day after the execution of the rebel lords." I was not at it, but had two persons come to me directly who were at the next house to the scaffold, and I saw another who was upon it; so that you may depend upon my accounts.
Just before they came out of the Tower, Lord Balmerino drank a bumper to King James's health. As the clock struck ten, they came forth on foot, Lord Kilmarnock all in black, his hair unpowdered in a bag, supported by Forster, the great Presbyterian, and by Mr. Home, a young clergyman, his friend. Lord Balmerino followed, alone, in a blue coat, turned up with red (his rebellious regimentals), a flannel waistcoat, and his shroud beneath; their hearses following. They were conducted to a house near the scaffold; the room forwards had benches for spectators, in the second Lord Kilmarnock was put, and in the third backwards Lord Balmerino; all three chambers hung with black. Here they parted. Balmerino embraced the other, and said, "My lord, I wish I could suffer for both!” He had scarce left him, before he desired again to see him, and then asked
, Jacobites, captured and brought to trial after the Battle of Culloden.
him, “My Lord Kilmarnock, do you know anything of the resolution taken in our army, the day before the battle of Culloden, to put the English prisoners to death?” He replied, “My lord, I was not present; but since I came hither, I have had all the reason to believe that there was such order taken; and I hear the Duke has the pocket-book with the order.” Balmerino answered, "It was a lie raised to excuse their barbarity to us. Take notice, that the Duke's charging this on Lord Kilmarnock (certainly on misinformation) decided this unhappy man's fate! . . . At last he came to the scaffold, certainly much terrified, but with a resolution that prevented his behaving in the least meanly or unlike a gentleman. He took no notice of the crowd, only to desire that the baize might be lifted up from the rails, that the mob might see the spectacle. He stood and prayed some time with Forster, who wept over him, exhorted and encouraged him. He delivered a long speech to the Sheriff, and with a noble manliness stuck to the recantation he had made at his trial, declaring he wished that all who embarked in the same cause might meet the same fate. He then took off his bag, coat, and waistcoat, with great composure, and after some trouble put on a napkin-cap, and then several times tried the block; the executioner, who was in white, with a white apron, out of tenderness concealing the axe behind himself. At last the Earl knelt down, with a visible unwillingness to depart, and after five minutes dropped his handkerchief, the signal, and his head was cut off at once, only hanging by a bit of skin, and was received in a scarlet cloth by four of the undertaker's men kneeling, who wrapped it up and put it into the coffin with the body, - orders having been given not to expose the heads, as used to be the custom.
The scaffold was immediately new-strewed with sawdust, the block new-covered, the executioner new-dressed, and a new axe brought. Then came old Balmerino, treading with the air of a general. As soon as he mounted the scaffold, he read the inscription on his coffin, as he did again afterwards. He then surveyed the spectators, who were in amazing numbers, even upon masts of ships in the river; and, pulling out his spectacles, read a treasonable speech, which he delivered to the Sheriff, and said the young Pretender was so sweet a Prince that flesh and blood could not resist following him; and, lying down to
try the block, he said, “If I had a thousand lives, I would lay them all down here in the same cause.” He said, if he had not taken the sacrament the day before, he would have knocked down Williamson, the lieutenant of the Tower, for his ill usage of him. He took the axe and felt it, and asked the headsman how many blows he had given Lord Kilmarnock, and gave him three guineas. Two clergymen who attended him coming up, he said, “No, gentlemen, I believe you have already done me all the service you can.” Then he went to the corner of the scaffold, and called very loud for the warder, to give him his periwig, which he took off, and put on a night-cap of Scotch plaid, and then pulled off his coat and waistcoat and lay down; but, being told he was on the wrong side, vaulted round, and immediately gave the signal by tossing up his arm, as if he were giving the signal for battle. He received three blows, but the first certainly took away all sensation. He was not a quarter of an hour on the scaffold; Lord Kilmarnock above half a one. Balmerino certainly died with the intrepidity of a hero, but with the insensibility of one too. As he walked from his prison to execution, seeing every window and top of house filled with spectators, he cried out, “Look, look! how they are all piled up like rotten oranges!”...
TO HON. H. S. CONWAY
TWICKENHAM, June 8, 1747. You perceive by my date that I am got into a new camp, and have left my tub at Windsor. It is a little plaything-house 1 that I got out of Mrs. Chevenix's shop, and is the prettiest bauble you ever saw. It is set in enameled meadows, with filigree hedges:
A small Euphrates through the piece is rolled,
And little finches wave their wings in gold. Two delightful roads, that you would call dusty, supply me continually with coaches and chaises; barges as solemn as Barons of the Exchequer move under my window; Richmond Hill and Ham walks bound my prospect; but thank God! the Thames is between me and the Duchess of Queensberry. Dowagers as plenty as flounders inhabit all around, and Pope's ghost is just now skimming under my window by a most po
1 The nucleus of “Strawberry Castle.”