Feature of the Month: Horace Walpole's "Fugitive Pieces"

Fugitive Pieces in Verse and Prose
Horace Walpole
[Twickenham]: Strawberry Hill Press, 1758
[S.L.] III [Strawberry Hill – 1758]

Horace (or Horatio) Walpole (1717-1797) has various claims to fame, several of which are connected with writing. With the instantly successful The Castle of Otranto (1765), he gave English literature its first Gothic novel, and through his voluminous correspondence he functioned as a historian of his own time. Not least was the establishment of what Stephen Clarke called ‘perhaps the most famous private press in England’ (The Strawberry Hill Press & its Printing House (2011), p. 15) at Strawberry Hall, the house in Twickenham into which Walpole moved in 1747 and which he developed on Gothic lines. According to W.H. Lewis, Walpole’s main exponent, the Press published first editions of more books of lasting interest than any other private press in England before or since, and these books, albeit not aesthetically beautiful, had ‘a certain modest elegance of their own’ (Horace Walpole (1961), p. 142). Walpole chose what to publish for his pleasure and controlled the distribution, in quantities ranging from six (Hieroglyphic Tales) and a few hundred (Anecdotes of Painting). He circulated some of the works by selling them for charity or giving them away.

Ultimately Walpole printed 34 books and pamphlets and 48 detached pieces at Strawberry Hill. He began in 1757 with what was in literary terms the Press’s most important item, the Odes of Thomas Gray (a longstanding friend of Walpole). Fugitive Pieces in Verse and Prose is the fourth item to have been published at the Press, following Gray, Paul Hentzner’s A Journey into England (1757), and Walpole’s own Catalogue of the Royal and Noble Authors of England (1758).

Fugitive Pieces resembles half the Press’s output in having been written by Walpole himself. It contains a number of Walpole’s earlier poems, a few of which (like ‘The Entail’) had not been published previously; prose papers written for the periodicals The Museum and The World; two essays intended for The World but not published there; a highly successful political squib satirizing the condition of England,  Letter from Xo Ho to his Friend Lien Chi; and a few minor pieces and inscriptions. Walpole dedicated the work is to his cousin and longstanding friend, army officer and politician Henry Seymour Conway (1719-1795). He mentioned the dedication at least twice in his correspondence, ranking it equally with the printing both times. Fugitive Pieces was printed in 200 copies in the summer of 1758 and Walpole began to distribute some copies in 1759: recipients included the antiquary William Cole, the naturalist Thomas Pennant, the actress Eliza Farren, the poet Thomas Gray, the magistrate Henry Zouch, and Thomas Lennard, 17th Baron Dacre.

The work is one of six to have been produced by Walpole’s first printer, Irishman William Robinson, who left and brought the Press to a temporary standstill in 1759 when, according to Walpole, he was angry that Walpole regarded him as a fool rather than a genius. A picture of the east end of Strawberry Hall on the title page marks Fugitive Pieces as one of the Press’s early publications. This illustration is the larger of two such pictures. It was designed by Richard Bentley (1708-1782), who also designed some of the Gothic architecture at Strawberry Hill. Both it and the smaller vignette were discontinued after 1758, presumably because addition of the Gallery and the Round Tower to the property between 1759 and 1762 rendered the views out-of-date.

 

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