The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 2. His earlier life
Horatio Walpole was born at the house of his father (Sir Robert Walpole) in Arlington street, on 24 September, 1717. After two years of study with a tutor, he went to Eton in April, 1727, where he remained until the spring of 1735, when he entered at King’s college, Cambridge. He had many fast Etonian friends, and we hear of two small circles—“the triumvirate,” consisting of George and Charles Montagu and Walpole, and “the quadruple alliance,” namely, Gray, West, Ashton and Walpole. He left the university in 1739, and, on 10 March, set off on the grand tour with Gray, of which some account has already been given in this volume. Of the quarrel between them, Walpole took the whole blame upon himself; but, probably, Gray was also at fault. Both kept silence as to the cause, and the only authentic particulars are to be found in Walpole’s letter to Mason, who was then writing the life of Gray—a letter which does the greatest credit to Walpole’s heart. The friendship was renewed after three years and continued through life; but it was not what it had been at first, though Walpole’s appreciation of the genius of Gray was always of the strongest and of the most enthusiastic character.
After Gray left Walpole at Reggio, the latter passed through a serious illness. His life was probably saved by the prompt action of Joseph Spence (who was travelling with Lord Lincoln) in summoning a famous Italian physician who, with the aid of Spence’s own attentive nursing, brought the illness to a successful end. Walpole, when convalescent, continued his journey with Lord Lincoln and Spence; but, having been elected member of parliament for Callington in Cornwall at the general election, he left his companions and landed at Dover, 12 September, 1741. He changed his seat several times, but continued in parliament until 1768, when he retired from the representation of Lynn. He was observant of his duties, and a regular attendant at long sittings, his descriptions of which are of great interest. On 23 March, 1742, he spoke for the first time in the House, against the motion for the appointment of a secret committee on his father. According to his own account, his speech “was published in the Magazines, but was entirely false, and had not one paragraph of my real speech in it.” On 11 January, 1751, he moved the address to the king at the opening of the session; but the most remarkable incident in his parliamentary career was his quarrel, in 1747, with the redoubtable speaker Onslow. More to his credit were his strenuous endeavours to save the life of the unfortunate admiral Byng.