From Leslie Stephen’s essay on Horace Walpole in Hours in a Library. I just like the phrasing.
In truth Walpole has no pretensions whatever to be regarded as a great original creator, or even as one of the few infallible critics. The only man of his time who had some claim to that last title was his friend Gray, who shared his Gothic tastes with greatly superior knowledge. But he was indefinitely superior to the great mass of commonplace writers, who attain a kind of bastard infallibility by always accepting the average verdict of the time; which, on the principle of the vox populi, is more often right than that of any dissenter.
Leslie Stephen from his essay on Horace Walpole in Hours in a Library – imagining the dandy Walpole’s visits to his constituents, with reference to William Hogarth’s An Election Entertainment pictured below:
Yet we can fancy Walpole’s occasional visit to his constituents, and imagine him forced to preside at one of those election feasts which still survive on Hogarth’s canvas. Substitute him for the luckless fine gentleman in a laced coat, who represents the successful candidate in the first picture of the series. A drunken voter is dropping lighted pipe ashes upon his wig; a hideous old hag is picking his pockets; a boy is brewing oceans of punch in a mash-tub; a man is blowing bagpipes in his ear; a fat parson close by is gorging the remains of a haunch of venison; a butcher is pouring gin on his neighbour’s broken head; an alderman—a very mountain of roast beef—is sinking back in a fit, whilst a barber is trying to bleed him; brickbats are flying in at the windows; the room reeks with the stale smell of heavy viands and the fresh vapours of punch and gin, whilst the very air is laden with discordant howls and thick with oaths and ribald songs.
This also reminded me of a metro ride I took the other day. Always better off walking the extra stops.
Like father like daughter (who resented/hated but unconsciously/unavoidably mirrored much of him). Yesterday was Sir Leslie Stephen on Thomas Browne, today Virginia Woolf from her essay The Elizabethan Lumber Room in The Common Reader:
He is the first of the autobiographers. Swooping and soaring at the highest altitudes he stoops suddenly with loving particularity upon the details of his own body. His height was moderate, he tells us, his eyes large and luminous; his skin dark but constantly suffused with blushes. He dressed very plainly. He seldom laughed. He collected coins, kept maggots in boxes, dissected the lungs of frogs, braved the stench of the spermaceti whale, tolerated Jews, had a good word for the deformity of the toad, and combined a scientific and sceptical attitude towards most things with an unfortunate belief in witches. In short, as we say when we cannot help laughing at the oddities of people we admire most, he was a character, and the first to make us feel that the most sublime speculations of the human imagination are issued from a particular man, whom we can love. In the midst of the solemnities of the Urn Burial we smile when he remarks that afflictions induce callosities. The smile broadens to laughter as we mouth out the splendid pomposities, the astonishing conjectures of the Religio Medici. Whatever he writes is stamped with his own idiosyncrasy, and we first became conscious of impurities which hereafter stain literature with so many freakish colours that, however hard we try, make it difficult to be certain whether we are looking at a man or his writing. Now we are in the presence of sublime imagination; now rambling through one of the finest lumber rooms in the world — a chamber stuffed from floor to ceiling with ivory, old iron, broken pots, urns, unicorns’ horns, and magic glasses full of emerald lights and blue mystery.
It is odd she so forgets Montaigne – whom she admires in similar terms elsewhere.
From Sir Leslie Stephen’s essay on Sir Thomas Browne in Hours in a Library (first essay in vol. 2 of my 4 vol. edition – a different one is on Gutenberg):
A mind endowed with an insatiable curiosity as to all things knowable and unknowable; an imagination which tinges with poetical hues the vast accumulation of incoherent facts thus stored in a capacious memory; and a strangely vivid humour that is always detecting the quaintest analogies, and, as it were, striking light from the most unexpected collocations of uncompromising materials: such talents are by themselves enough to provide a man with work for life, and to make all his work delightful. To them, moreover, we must add a disposition absolutely incapable of controversial bitterness; ‘a constitution,’ as he says of himself, ‘so general that it consorts and sympathises with all things;’ an absence of all antipathies to loathsome objects in nature, for all theological systems; an admiration even of our natural enemies, the French, the Spaniards, the Italians, and the Dutch; a love of all climates, of all countries; and, in short, an utter incapacity to ‘absolutely detest or hate any essence except the devil.’ … A man so endowed … is admirably qualified to discover one great secret of human happiness. No man was ever better prepared to keep not only one, but a whole stableful of hobbies, nor more certain to ride them so as to amuse himself, without loss of temper or dignity, and without rude collisions against his neighbours. That happy art is given to few, and thanks to his skill in it, Sir Thomas reminds us strongly of the two illustrious brothers Shandy combined in one person. To the exquisite kindliness and simplicity of Uncle Toby he unites the omnivorous intellectual appetite and the humorous pedantry of the head of the family.