Writing to the Moment: Walpole’s Letters
Why read letters that were written over two hundred and fifty years ago? What are the special qualities of the letter as a form of writing, and what special insights into social and cultural history do letters afford? This free public lecture to answer these questions and more, by looking at one of the most prominent letter writers of the eighteenth century, Horace Walpole. Join the conversation via #WalpoleLegacies.
As the son of the first British Prime Minister, Horace Walpole was uniquely placed as an observer of eighteenth-century politics, but he was also a novelist and an art historian who perceived the possibilities of the letter as a work of art. Acknowledged by Sir Walter Scott as ‘the best letter writer in the English language’, Walpole was both a prolific correspondent and an impeccable stylist. His letters are magnificently diverse in subject matter, ranging from dogs and divorces, gambling and highwaymen, to gothic architecture, international politics, and the contemporary craze for hot-air ballooning.
This opening lecture in the Durham University series of Tercentenary Lectures: Horace Walpole and His Legacies will show how Walpole’s correspondence challenges our assumptions about the nature and function of letter writing. Walpole’s letters will be seen as acts of writing that embrace their own contradictory status: private and introspective, but also public and effusive, spontaneous and improvised, but also refashioned and curated for posterity.
Image credit: Letter from Horace Walpole to Hannah More (1788). Reproduced courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.
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