Rescuing Horace Walpole: The Achievement of W.S. Lewis

Yale Edition of the Correspondence

Lewis’s 80th birthday was celebrated on 12 November 1975 at the Beinecke Library. He was surrounded by almost one hundred friends and many of them wrote their birthday greetings in verse. Shown are the contributions of his collaborators F. W. Hilles and Edwine Martz, the playwright Thornton Wilder, and the Professor of English Maynard Mack. The poem at the bottom by Martz imagines that God threatens to destroy Lewis’s house and collection and he pleads to be allowed to save three of his treasures—the germ from which, three years later, Lewis created “The Fantasy” shown on the wall panel at the far end of the wall to your right.

A further contribution to the celebrations of Lewis’s 80th birthday, this poem by the Beinecke’s first librarian, H.W. (“Fritz”) Liebert (1911–41), is an affectionate tribute to Lewis. It is a parody on a poem by Walpole of the same name, but Walpole’s fable of the care of the magpie for her young and their need at last to fly the nest is converted into Lewis’s care in assembling his collection and its ultimate transfer to Yale.

Thomas Patch (1725–82) was an artist who from 1755 lived at Florence, painting views for Grand Tourists and caricatures of the personalities passing through the city (one of those caricatures, was bought by Lewis and is in the corridor outside the exhibition room). The consumptive Sterne had died on 18 March 1768, and is shown summoned by Death, leaving behind him on the table his writer’s quill and a perhaps inspirational statue of the many-breasted Goddess Diana. The oversize boots at his feet and the plan of fortifications on the wall refer back to his novel Tristram Shandy.

The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence (1937–1983) prided itself on its accuracy, and this necessitated laborious checking and proofing. Displayed are a sample pile of the galley proofs that the editors had to work through; these are from the first volume, Walpole’s correspondence with the Rev. William Cole.

Consistency in formatting was achieved by adhering to a Style Sheet for the Edition, while making the letters easily readable involved normalizing the text―modernizing the spelling and use of capital letters, expanding contractions, and correcting the punctuation. Although Lewis firmly believed that this was essential to assist the reader, it is the one policy decision of the Edition that does not accord with current academic practice.

The Yale edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence, published by Yale University Press in 48 volumes with Lewis as general editor and with funding from Annie Burr, was Lewis’s crowning achievement. Working with a team of eighteenth-century specialists at Yale, he created and coordinated perhaps the finest twentieth-century scholarly edition of any writer’s correspondence, copiously annotated and indexed. Virginia Woolf suggested that its “minute and monumental learning” was beyond criticism.

This is the third of six volumes of transcripts of Walpole’s most wide-ranging correspondence, which extended from 1740 to the year of Mann’s death in 1786. The letter of 31 March 1768, numbered as letter 479 in the correspondence, is in the hand of Walpole’s secretary Thomas Kirgate, and in the absence of the missing originals provided the essential copy-text that was needed for the accuracy of the Yale edition.

Lewis was concerned that the Yale edition should be well-designed and handsomely produced. For the design he turned to Carl Purlington Rollins (1880–1960), Yale’s long-serving University Printer. The result is an elegant, functional, wide-margined page, using the recently revived Baskerville type, easy to read and easily accommodating the often substantial number of footnotes.

The auctioneer Abraham Langford conducted in January 1773 a sale of James West’s coins and medals, and in March 1773 his pictures. Walpole noted his purchase for £35 of lot 68 in the picture sale, which was believed to represent Henry V and his queen and family. The sand or pounce used to dry ink still glistens in the light under the note “bought by Mr Walpole”.