Friday, 22 July 2011

The Best of Horace Walpole

I think Horace Walpole is easily one if the most accessible commentators of his age. A prolific letter-writer with a colourful personality, his ascerbic wit and keen observational skills make reading his correspondence an absolute joy! Each week I will provide a short extract from one of his letters. The first concerns the weather (a familar discourse in Walpole's compositions) and his encountering a hot air balloon - the letter dates from June of 1784 and the first manned balloon flight took place in October of 1793.
To the Hon H.S. Conway
Strawberry Hill, June 30th 1784

The Duke and Duchess of Marlborough breakfasted here on Monday and seemed much pleased, though it rained the whole time with an Egyptian darkness. I should have thought there had been deluges enough to destroy all of Egypt's other plagues: but the the newspapers talk of locusts: I suppose relations of your beetles, though probably not so fond of green fruit, for the scene of their campaign is Queen square, Westminster, where there has certainly not been an orchard since the reign of Canute.

I have, at last, seen an air balloon, just as I did once see a tiny review, by passing one accidentally on Hounslow-Heath. I was going last night to Lady Oslow at Richmond and over Mr. Cambridge's field I saw a bundle in the air not bigger than the moon, and she herself could not have descended with more composure if she had she had expected to find Endymion fast asleep. It seemed to 'light on Richmond-hill; but Mrs. Hobart was going by, and her coiffure prevented my seeing it alight. The papers say, that a balloon has been made at Paris representing the castle of Stockholm, in compliment to the King of Sweden; but that they are afraid to let it off: so, I suppose, it will be served up to him in a dessert. No great progress.. surely, is made in these airy navigations, if they are still afraid of risking the necks of two or three subjects for the entertainment of a visiting sovereign. There is seldom a feu de joie for the birth of a Dauphin that does not cost more lives. I thought royalty and science never haggled about the value of blood when experiments are in the question.

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