The Books at Strawberry Hill



SEYMOUR DE HICCI has this to say in his English Collectors of Books and MSS, 1530-1930: “Although the library of Horace Walpole . . . contained some very valuable books and manuscripts, the interest attached to it was on the whole more sentimental than strictly bibliographical.” After publishing this, de Ricci spent the summer helping me discover the whereabouts of letters to and from Walpole. “What did I say about his library in my book?” he asked suddenly one day, and when I couldn’t tell him, he treated himself to that elixir of the scholar, a re-reading of his own work. He read it aloud, impressively, and then added, “That is not nearly good enough.”Another judgment of Horace Walpole had been revised.

When one first turns over the pages of the Strawberry Hill Sale Catalogue one can hardly fail to agree with de Ricci’s original verdict. Making all allowances for the obvious imperfections of the cataloguing, it is quite clear that there were few books at Strawberry Hill which would today reach four figures in a New York sale room. Walpole owned one or two fine Books of Hours, Tottel’s Miscellany, 1557, and Gosson’s School of Abuse, 1579, but they should be regarded as happy accidents; he did not collect books as he collected coins, medals, and engraved English portraits. What, then, did de Ricci mean when he said that his pronouncement upon Walpole’s library was “not nearly good enough ” ?

There were about 7500 volumes at Strawberry Hill, a modest total for a library of the time, but it included nearly 300 bound volumes of tracts, plays, and poems. Each volume had about ten pieces. The total number of titles was about 6500 in the rooms devoted to books at Strawberry.

Of these rooms the most interesting was the library Walpole built in 1754. It was 28 feet long, 17 feet wide, and about 15 feet high, and it had shelves entirely around the walls, except for the chimney and one window that looked east upon the Thames. The library had three features which gave its owner particular satisfaction. One of these was the ceiling painted by Clermont from Walpole’s design. It: displayed the shield of Walpole surrounded with the quarters borne by the family and heraldic embellishments. “At the four corners,” Walpole wrote, “are shields, helmets, and mantles; on one shield is a large H, on another a W, semee of cross crosslets.” The chimney piece, he recorded, was “imitated from the tomb of John of Ell ham, earl of Cornwall, in Westminster Abbey,” but what he really had done was to copy the print of it in Dart’s Westminster. The “doors” to the bookcases supplied the third special feature of the room. They were “Gothic arches of pierced work” which swung on hinges before each case of books and were “taken from a side door case to the choir in Dugdale’s St. Paul’s.” Thus were the ages of romance brought into the library. Little furniture was brought with them. There was a Louis Quatorze writing-table, six ebony chairs, five screens, an osprey modelled in terra cotta by Mrs. Damer, seven ossuaria, and a clock, a present from Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn.

Each bookcase was assigned a letter, beginning with A to the right of the fireplace and extending around the room to M on the left of the fireplace. Between D and E was a “Glass Closet” in which Walpole kept under lock and key the books and MSS he particularly valued or did not wish everyone to sec. The Glass Closet was originally a door

which opened upon the Armoury, but proved to be a convenient way of adding another ease to the library when the need for more shelves became imperative. Here were prudently placed the only two books in the library which would come under the modern rubric, erotica, and certain contemporary books in which Walpole had made notes of a personal nature. Among the MSS were several volumes from Sir Julius Caesar’s library and Mme, du Deffand’s letters and notebooks which she bequeathed to Walpole.

In 1763 Walpole notes he had plenty of leeway for growth, but gradually the library became filled. His secretary-printer, Thomas Kirgate, wrestled with the shelves in A and B. “Those books that were on the third shelf in A,” Kirgate noted, “are carried to the 6th; those on the 5th to the 7th and so upward. Those on the 5th in B are carried to the 6th and the others upward.” Brave but unavailing struggle! All creators of libraries are familiar with these growing pains; Walpole was fortunate in being able to provide the only satisfactory solution, an additional library. In fact, he added not one library but two, both completed in 1790. The larger of these was on the upper floor of the new “Offices,” the smaller was a room in the Round Tower lilted up for the books of prints originally in cases B, C, and D. There was a fourth library, as a matter of fact, a mysterious one built in 1765, in what Walpole called “The Cottage in the Flower Garden.” In his Description of Strawberry Hill, he speaks of “several volumes of MSS” being in this library and states that there was “over the bookcases, a small marble bust of Lord Chancellor Clarendon.” but he does not say what printed books, if any, were on the shelves. Although so much is known about Strawberry Hill it retains a few secrets.

We can speak with confidence of the rest of the books because of the MS Catalogue of the library which was commenced in 1763 and the two Sale Catalogues of 1842. The MS Catalogue was written in a professional hand, presumably by someone from Walpole’s office at the Exchequer. Walpole kept it up himself from 1763 to 1768, but thereafter Kirgate took over and he entered the new books only fitfully. The Sale Catalogues furnish a great many additional titles. Finally, the recovery of three-quarters of the bound volumes of tracts, plays, and poems gives us the titles of their otherwise unidentified contents.

It cannot be said that the arrangement of the books at any time was in accord with modern library practice. The method employed was what I believe is now called “fixed location.” Above the bookplate in each book in the main library was written a shelf mark unless the end-paper was marbled, in which case the shelf mark was written on the opposite fly-leaf. The shelf mark consisted of the letter of the case, the number of the shelf counting from the floor, and the position of the book on the shelf from the left. Thus, H.6.9 was placed in Case H, the sixth shelf, and the ninth book on the shelf from the left. The books in the Round Tower and the Offices had only a letter, A through Y, and one digit, to indicate the shelf, for by that time Walpole and Kirgate had discovered it was too much bother to replace the books correctly on the shelf.

It seems likely that Walpole directed the original arrangement in a casual way. Case A. contained a preponderance of biography and books by noble authors, li, books on the arts and numismatics, C and D, books of prints and drawings, E, topography, F and (G, French literature, H, I, and K, English literature, and L and M, the Classics, but even so settled and stable a case as I had a lot in the Sale Catalogue made up of “Johnson’s Rasselas, Chetwood’s General History of the Stage, Lock’s Abridgment, Harris’ Elements of Geometry, Fielding’s Voyage to Lisbon, Lock’s Education, [Lore in the Empire in seven] Novels, Cambray’s Fables, Nickolls’ Remarks, Impeachment of the Earl of Clarendon, and an Essay upon Government.”

Something of this confusion must have reigned during Walpole’s lifetime, for on moving into the house at his death in 1797, Mrs. Damer had printed at the Press a notice, “If any Person should take a Book out of the Library, they are particularly requested to set down their Name on this Slate, and the title of the Book,” together with a “Rule for replacing a Book,” and when in 1810 she was getting ready to turn the house over to the Waldegraves she added a note on a fly-leaf of the MS Catalogue; “The Vols that may be found missing from any of the Works mentioned in this Catalogue, were so when Mrs. Damer came to Strawberry Hill. She is not aware—that any have been lossed since—” The Waldegraves do not seem to have been a bookish family and during the following generation it is safe to say that the books remained undisturbed. Then came Robins, the auctioneer, and his men who catalogued the library as they found it on the shelves.


OF the many anniversaries which went uncelebrated because of the war, that which fell on April 25, 1942, was, for Walpolians, the most memorable. One hundred years earlier began the Sale of the Contents of Strawberry Hill, the sale which shredded out and undid the labors of a lifetime — and, incidentally, gave posterity the delightful task of attempting to perform them all over again. The sale led off with the dispersal of the books in Cases A, B, and C. It had been planned to give the first eight days to the library, but there was so much dissatisfaction with the cataloguing of the prints and books of prints in the seventh and eighth days’ sales (the contents of the library in the Round Tower), that these were removed and were recatalogued and sold in a ten days’ sale in London the following June. Thus the sale of the library was made in two portions which occupied sixteen days.

There were six different issues of the Strawberry Hill Catalogue, of which the sixth issue is the allimportant one, since it alone mentions most of the books. It is easily recognized, for the additional books are printed in blacker type than the rest and the seventh and eighth days’ sales are omitted altogether.

The sale made a great stir. Robins invited derisive comment by the lushness of his style of cataloguing, but the newspapers gave lengthy accounts of the thousands of persons who visited Strawberry Hill on the days before the sale and were particular in naming all those above the rank of Viscount. The roads leading to Twickenham were choked with carriages; a boat brought many who had no carriage.

At the sale itself there were few in attendance other than the great booksellers who, one unfriendly newspaper account asserted, were buying largely on commission. That this was not true is proved by the many books which appeared in the booksellers catalogues after the sale, some of which, those issued by Thorpe, Payne & Foss, and Strong of Bristol, were largely filled with books from Strawberry Hill, but it is true that nearly all of the leading collectors wanted at least one volume from the library and that few bid themselves. Several collectors bought dozens of books: Beckford bought through Bohn; Lord Derby through Boone. The books acquired by Henry LabouchÜre were bought at the sale by Thorpe, Payne & Foss, and Bohn, and it would seem that he bought his books from their stock. John Britton’s extensive purchases came from Strong, who worked closely with Thorpe in what was perhaps an early version of the “knockout.” A few private collectors had the temerity to buy in person, Richard Bentley and Henry Colburn were two of them; Sir “Thomas Phillipps was another; Ralph Sneyd was still another.

The prices were not considered brilliant, but occasionally a lower price is paid today than the one realized at the sale. The only author to bring consistently high prices was Horace Walpole himself. The total realized for the books, prints, and books of drawings was £3837.15.6. Heaven knows what that represents now, but perhaps the present-day value may be approximated if we multiply it by live.

Lord Derby’s purchases are still at Knowsley, the only purchases, so far as I know, which are in the library for which they were bought. The rest have wandered far and wide, literally around the earth. (At t lie moment Walpole’s set of Archaeologia is on its way to Farmington from Egypt.) Surprisingly few of the books have found their way into public libraries; of these the two chief repositories at present are Harvard and the Victoria and Albert, with about thirty-five volumes apiece. (The British Museum bought many of the MSS at the sale, but no books and have acquired few since.) “New” books turn up all the time. During the twenty-two years I have been reassembling Walpole’s library I have acquired a title from it on the average of one every four days. In all, about a third of the titles in the original library may be examined today. That. 1 his is the most interesting third of the library, both from the bibliographical and Walpolian standpoint, would seem to be clear. The better books have higher powers of survival than inferior books and Walpole’s notes have acted as a preservative in those copies he annotated.


THE number of Walpole’s books which have been found is, furthermore, a much higher proportion of his books now in existence, for many of his books have been destroyed, not by fire or flood, but by the trade. I have been told by old-time booksellers that before there was a market for any book from Walpole’s library they thought little of pulping unimportant books formerly in it which weie in poor condition. The bookplate was always worth h;dt a crown. The dealers soaked it off and either sold it separately or pasted it into another book. They stripped off the covers and threw the body of the book into a sack which i hey sold for half a sovereign when it was filled. The covers, with the precious shelf marks, went into the office fire. And so the book was literally destroyed. How many were thus disposed of there is no way of knowing, but Walpole’s bookplate is distressingly common and each bookplate represents a book irretrievably lost.

The practice of pasting Walpole’s bookplate into books which had not been his has supplied the market with a number of ghosts, some of which haunt the most august shelves. The presence of the bookplate brings conviction of authenticity to its owner, who goes on presenting the book as from Horace Walpole’s library. Since all the books in the library had shelf marks except the books in the Glass Closet, and all of those I’ve ever seen have Walpole’s notes in them, the absence of the shelf marks and Walpole’s notes in a book with an eighteenth-century or earlier binding is suspicious. When, in addition, the MS and Sale Catalogues show that Walpole did not own a copy of the book, the impostor stands revealed beyond any reasonable doubt.

A more difficult problem is to identify the books which really were Walpole’s, but which are masquerading as ghosts. These are the books which were rebound after the sale by their owners. The original covers with their shelf marks are gone, and if there are no MS notes, the catalogue is the chief source of reassurance. Proof of Walpole’s ownership may be supplied by the small marginalia he frequently made. These were short horizontal lines, crosses, and exclamation points in pencil.

Further evidence is furnished by the bookplate itself. It exists in two states. In the second state, which was designed about 1766, Walpole’s name is printed in an elaborate script. About that time his taste in book-buying changed somewhat; from then on he bought contemporary books much more frequently than older ones. Therefore, a bookplate of the second state in a book printed before 1760 is suspicious. Finally, when later owners have disliked the marks of former owners they have occasionally tried to erase Walpole’s shelf marks, sometimes with great but unavailing skill, for the paper is inevitably roughened and the erasers may have failed to remove the offset of the shelf marks which frequently appear on the opposite fly-leaf. (The man from the Exchequer who wrote the shelf marks in the books when he made the MS Catalogue was evidently in a hurry and shut the books before the ink was dry.) A more effective blottingout was accomplished by new end-papers — Henry Gibbs, Lord Aldenham, used this method — but modern paper is easy to spot and when spotted one may astound his own binder by saying, “Please remove the end-paper of the front cover and when you do I think you will find C.2.15 written in ink just about here.”

What use, it may now be asked, did Walpole make of his library? It is evident to any reader of his works and letters that ho made constant use of it. The Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors could not have been written without the books in Case A; the Castle of Otranto, Walpole himself said, was natural, “for a head filled like mine with Gothic story.” The Road to Otranto would be a comparatively easy one to follow.

Its starting point goes far back into Walpole’s life. At seven he wrote to his “Dear Mamy” for Bank’s Earl of Essex and Rowe’s Jane Shore. We know that he was buying books when he was aged ten, doubtless from Pote of Eton. These books are identifiable because he wrote his name and the year when he bought them on a fly-leaf, a practice he unfortunately did not continue regularly. The books he bought while at Eton prove his statement that he “was never quite a schoolboy.” In addition to his textbooks — Webster’s Practical Mathematics, Palairet’s French Grammar, Moll’s Maps of the Ancient World—he bought and read the contemporary writers, Addison and Steele, Congreve, Prior and Gay. The classical books he had at Eton included not only Horace, Ovid, and Virgil, but Petronius as well. His lifelong habit of annotating his books began at school: on a fly-leaf of Moll’s Maps, following his note linking Leonidas with Thermopylae and Themistocles with Salamis he wrote a graceful quatrain in French on Tasso.

Books which he particularly liked — topographical books and biographies — he would occasionally annotate so fully that he would exhaust the fly-leaves and write on extra sheets which he then bound into the volume, and these notes frequently passed through the creative process and reappeared in his letters. These interpolations were usually anecdotal and biographical in character; they were ana, to use the eighteenth-century word. Such annotated books became in effect commonplace books upon which he drew for his letters.

The library was primarily a “working” library, not a sentimental one. The books Walpole collected were the tracts, plays, and poems which he brought together to assist him in the grand project of his life, which was to transmit to posterity a true picture of his time. These tracts, plays, and poems he had bound, about ten to a volume, with his arms on the sides, and “Tracts of Geo. 3,” “Theatre of Geo. 3,” or “Poems of Geo. 3,” on the spine. He would write “A List of Pieces in this Volume” on the inside cover. On many of the title-pages he wrote the month of the piece’s publication and he added notes on the title-page and here and there in the margins. In many volumes he pasted newspaper cuttings which referred to the contents of the volumes or their authors. A catalogue of the books at Strawberry Hill would be a biography of Horace Walpole.

Such a catalogue has been in course of preparation for many years, and now it is hoped that it may be pushed to completion — in perhaps another twenty years. This catalogue will show virtually all the titles in the library. Fortunately, (he MS Catalogue has the shelf marks and the years when the books were published and so ensures an accuracy of identification the Sale Catalogue rarely affords. What appears in the Sale Catalogue merely as History of Virginia becomes in the MS Catalogue “ Beverly’s History of Virginia, 1722, H.4.25.” We shall be able to show something of the migration of the books about the house; we may even be able to throw light, on the malaise evident in Case B which suffered an unexplained incursion from case D. We shall bo able to name a good many of the other owners of the copies before and alter Walpole — the aspect of the library which appealed most strongly to Seymour de Ricci and made him realize that for the descriptive bibliographer Walpole’s library is extraordinarily rich. We shall give the MS notes in the copies we have seen when they are of interest. And finally, we shall try to show how Walpole used his books in writing his works and letters.

Then will emerge, I believe, a clearer view of the ambitious, over-sensitive, long-suffering, farsighted, and witty man who made the library. Horace Walpole will doubtless always be a somewhat controversial figure, but the library when it is fully described will spread out a panorama of unsuspected breadth. We can be certain, 1 think, that in every generation there will be those who will explore it with profit and delight.