the abiding charm of horace walpole

218f949e-8cce-11e7-a5d5-0066a735a5c34Margaret Drabble at the TLS:

The forty-eight large volumes of the Yale edition of Horace Walpole’s correspondence march along three open shelves in the Rare Books and Music Room of the British Library. They occupy a lot of space. Their indexes and footnotes are formidable. This monumental undertaking by W. S. Lewis, the great, wealthy and obsessed scholar and collector, was launched in 1937 and brought to completion after his death in 1979. Volume One contains correspondence between the Revd William Cole, an antiquarian, and Walpole. (The opening salvo from Cole is engagingly and somewhat informally described by Lewis as “incredibly dull”). Lewis justifies his decision to publish not chronologically, but by correspondent, by arguing that the vast collection of some thousands of letters fell naturally into divisions by subject matter, as Walpole “selected his correspondents with a subject more or less in mind”. So each individual correspondence, according to Lewis, tended to have its own theme – the social, the literary, the Gothic, the antiquarian, the political, the historical. When a correspondent died or “cooled off”, he or she would be replaced by another with similar interests, so a kind of coherence continued. On this principle Lewis gives us separate volumes dedicated to letters to and from such figures as the Florence-based diplomat Sir Horace Mann (eleven whole volumes to himself, in Lewis’s phrase a “great Andean range”), the Parisian hostess Madame du Deffand (six volumes, in French), the Countess of Upper Ossory (three volumes), while others, less attentive, less long-lived or less prolific (including the poet Thomas Gray and the writer-philanthropist Hannah More), are obliged to rub shoulders and share space.

more here.