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A History of English Romanticism in the Eighteenth

By reviving public interest in Gothic


followers both in church and

house architecture, "and it is surprising what a number of castles were built which had nothing castellated about them except a nicked parapet and an occasional window in the form of a cross." That school of bastard Gothic illustrated by the buildings of Batty Langley, and other early restorers of the style, bears an analogy with the imitations of old English poetry in the last century. There was the same prematurity in both, the same defective knowledge, crudity, uncertainty, incorrectness, feebleness of invention, mixture of ancient and modern manners. It was not until the time of Pugin[8] that the details of the medieval building art were well enough understood to enable the architect to work in the spirit of that art, yet not as a servile copyist, but with freedom and originality. Meanwhile, one service that Walpole and his followers did, by reviving public interest in Gothic, was to arrest the process of dilapidation and save the crumbling remains of many a half-ruinous abbey, castle, or baronial hall. Thus, "when about a hundred years since, Rhyddlan Castle, in North Wales, fell into the possession of Dr. Shipley, Dean of St. Asaph, the massive walls had been prescriptively used as stone quarries, to which any neighboring occupier who wanted building materials might resort; and they are honey-combed all round as high as a pick-ax could reach."[9] "Walpole," writes Leslie Stephen, "is almost the first modern Englishman who found out that our old cathedrals were really
beautiful. He discovered that a most charming toy might be made of medievalism. Strawberry Hill, with all its gimcracks, its pasteboard battlements and stained-paper carvings, was the lineal ancestor of the new law-courts. The restorers of churches, the manufacturers of stained glass, the modern decorators and architects of all varieties, the Ritualists and the High Church party, should think of him with kindness. . . That he was quite conscious of the necessity for more serious study, appears in his letters; in one of which, _e.g._, he proposes a systematic history of Gothic architecture such as has since been often executed."[10] Mr. Stephen adds that Walpole's friend Gray "shared his Gothic tastes, with greatly superior knowledge."

Walpole did not arrive at his Gothicism by the gate of literature. It was merely a specialized development of his tastes as a virtuoso and collector. The museum of curiosities which he got together at Strawberry Hill included not only suits of armor, stained glass, and illuminated missals, but a miscellaneous treasure of china ware, enamels, faience, bronzes, paintings, engravings, books, coins, bric-a-brac, and memorabilia such as Cardinal Wolsey's hat, Queen Elizabeth's glove, and the spur that William III. wore at the Battle of the Boyne. Walpole's romanticism was a thin veneering; underneath it, he was a man of the eighteenth century. His opinions on all subjects were, if not inconsistent, at any rate notoriously whimsical and ill-assorted. Thus in spite of his admiration for Gray and his--temporary--interest in Ossian, Chatterton, and Percy's ballads, he ridiculed Mallet's and Gray's Runic experiments, spoke contemptuously of Spenser, Thomson, and Akenside, compared Dante to "a Methodist parson in bedlam," and pronounced "A Midsummer Night's Dream" "forty times more nonsensical than the worst translation of any Italian opera-books."[11] He said that poetry died with Pope, whose measure and manner he employed in his own verses. It has been observed that, in all his correspondence, he makes but a single mention of Froissart's "Chronicle," and that a sneer at Lady Pomfret for translating it.


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