Item of the Day: Horace Walpole on the Death and Funeral of George II from Walpole’s Private Correspondence (1760)

Full Title:  Private Correspondence of Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford. Now First Collected.  In Four Volumes.  vol. II. 1756-1764.  London:  Printed for Rodwell and Martin, Bond-Street; and Colburn and Co., Conduit-Street. 1820.

To the EARL of STRAFFORD.

Arlington-street, October 26, 1760.

My Dear Lord,

I beg your pardon for so long a silence in the late reign; I knew nothing worth telling you; and the great event of this morning you will certainly hear before it comes to you by so sober and regular a personage as the postman.  The few circumstances known yet are, that the king went well to-bed last night; rose well at six this morning; went to the water-closet a little after seven; had a fit, fell against a bureau, and gashed his right temple:  the valet-de-chambre heard a noise and a groan, and ran in:  the king tried to speak, but died instantly.  I should hope this would draw you southward:  such scenes are worth looking at, even by people who regard them with such indifference as your lordship or I.  I say no more, for what will mix in a letter with the death of a king!

I am my lady’s and your lordship’s most faithful servant.

To George Montagu, Esq.

Arlington-street, November 13, 1760.

. . . Do you know, I had the curiosity to go to the burying t’other night; I had never seen a royal funeral; nay, I walked as a rag of quality, which I found would be, and so it was, the easiest way of seeing it.  It is absolutely a noble sight.  The prince’s chamber, hung with purple, and a quantity of silver lamps, the coffin under a canopy of purple velvet, and six vast chandeliers of silver on high stands, had a very good effect.  The ambassador from Tripoli and his son were carried to see that chamber.  The procession, through a line of foot-guards, every seventh man bearing a torch, the horse-guards lining the outside, their officers with drawn sabres and crape sashes on horseback, the drums muffled, the fifes, bells tolling, and minute guns, — all this was very solemn.  But the charm was the entrance of the abbey, where we were received by the dean and chapter in rich robes, the choir and almsmen bearing torches; the whole abbey so illuminated, that one saw it to greater advantage than by day; the tombs, long aisles, and fretted roof, all appearing distinctly, and with the happiest chiara scuro.  There wanted nothing but incense, and little chapels here and there, with priests saying mass for the repose of the defunct; yet one could not complain of its not being catholic enough.  I had been in dread of being coupled with some boy of ten years old; but the heralds were not very accurate, and I walked with George Grenville, taller and older, to keep me in countenance.  When we came to the chapel of Henry the seventh, all solemnity and decorum ceased; no order was observed, people sat or stood where they could or would; the yeomen of the guard were crying out for help, oppressed by the immense weight of the coffin; the bishop read sadly, and blundered in the prayers; the fine chapter, Man that is born of a woman, was chaunted, not read; and the anthem, besides being immeasurably tedious, would have served as well for a nuptial.  The real serious part was the figure of the duke of Cumberland, heightened by a thousand melancholy circumstances.  He had a dark brown adonis, and a cloak of black cloth, with a train of five yards.  Attending the funeral of a father could not be pleasant:  his leg extremely bad, yet forced to stand upon it near two hours; his face bloated and distorted with his late paralytic stroke, which has affected too one of his eyes, and placed over the mouth of the vault, into which, in all probability, he must himself so soon descend; think how unpleasant a situation!  He bore it all with a firm and unaffected countenance.  This grave scene was fully contrasted by the burlesque duke of Newcastle.  He fell into a fit of crying the moment he came into the chapel, and flung himself back in a stall, the archbishop hovering over him with a smelling-bottle; but in two minutes his curiosity got the better of his hypocrisy, and he ran about the chapel with his glass to spy who was or was not there, spying with one hand, and mopping his eyes with the other.  Then returned the fear of catching cold; and the duke of Cumberland, who was sinking with heat, felt himself weighed down, and turning round, found it was the duke of Newcastle standing upon his train, to avoid the chill of the marble.  It was very theatric to look down into the vault, where the coffin lay, attended by mourners with lights.  Clavering, the groom of the bed-chamber, refused to sit up with the body, and was dismissed by the king’s order.

I have nothing more to tell you, but a trifle, a very trifle.  The king of Prussia has totally defeated marshal Daun.  This, which would have been prodigious news a month ago, is nothing today; it only takes it turn among the questions, “Who is to be groom of the bed-chamber? what is sir T. Robinson to have?”  I have been to Leicester-fields today; the crowd was immoderate; I don’t believe it will continue so.  Good night.

Yours ever.

http://people.virginia.edu/~jlc5f/charlotte/walpole_eng.html

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Filed under 1760's, England, George II, Posted by Rebecca Dresser

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