Horace Walpole

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The world is a comedy to those that think; a tragedy to those that feel.

Horatio Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford (24 September 17172 March 1797), more commonly known as Horace Walpole, was a British politician and writer, noted for his collected letters and for having written the first Gothic horror novel, The Castle of Otranto (1764).


A tragedy can never suffer by delay: a comedy may, because the allusions or the manners represented in it maybe temporary.
To act with common sense, according to the moment, is the best wisdom I know
Prognostics do not always prove prophecies, — at least the wisest prophets make sure of the event first.
  • When I first came abroad, every thing struck me, and I wrote its history; but now I am grown so used to be surprised, that I don't perceive any flutter in myself when I meet with any novelties; curiosity and astonishment wear off, and the next thing is, to fancy that other people know as much of places as one's self; or, at least, one does not remember that they do not. It appears to me as odd to write to you of St. Peter's, as it would do to you to write of Westminster-abbey. Besides, as one looks at churches, &c. with a book of travels in one's hand, and sees every thing particularised there, it would appear transcribing, to write upon the same subjects.
  • Harry Vane, Pulteney's toad-eater.
    • Letter to Sir Horace Mann (1742)
  • It always amazes me, when I reflect on the women, who are the first to propagate scandal of one another. If they would but agree not to censure what they all agree to do, there would be no more loss of characters among them than amongst men. A woman cannot have an affair, but instantly all her sex travel about to publish it and leave her off: now, if a man cheats another of his estate at play, forges a will, or marries his ward to his own son, nobody thinks of leaving him off for such trifles!
  • Why, I'll swear I see no difference between a country gentleman and a sirloin; whenever the first laughs, or the latter is cut, there run out just the same streams of gravy! ... Oh! my dear Sir, don't you find that nine parts in ten of the world are of no use but to make you wish yourself with that tenth part? ...
  • Our supreme governors, the mob.
    • Letter to Sir Horace Mann (7 September 1743)
  • My aversion to them...springs from the perniciousness of that sect to society—I hate Papists, as a man, not as a Protestant. If Papists were only enemies to the religion of other men, I should overlook their errors. As they are foes to liberty, I cannot forgive them.
    • Memoirs from the Declaration of the War with Spain (1746)
  • If a passion for freedom is not in vogue, patriots may sound the alarm till they are weary.
    The Act of Habeas Corpus, by which prisoners may insist on being brought to trial within a limited time, is the corner-stone of our liberty.
    • Notes of 1758, published in Memoires of the Last Ten Years of the Reign of George the Second (1822), p. 226; also published as "Memoirs of the Year 1758" in Memoirs of King George II, Vol. III (1985), p. 10
  • A tragedy can never suffer by delay: a comedy may, because the allusions or the manners represented in it maybe temporary.
    • Letter 123 To Robert Jephson (13 July 1777)
  • Instead of the glorious and ever-memorable year 1759, as the newspapers call it, I call it this ever-warm and victorious year. We have not had more conquest than fine weather: one would think we had plundered East and West Indies of sunshine. Our bells are worn threadbare with ringing for victories. I believe it will require ten votes of the House of Commons before people believe it is the Duke of Devonshire that has done this, and not Mr. Pitt.
  • The world is a comedy to those that think; a tragedy to those that feel– a solution of why Democritus laughed and Heraclitus wept.
    • Letter to Lady Anne, Countess of Ossory, (15 August 1776)
    • A favourite saying of Walpole's, it is repeated in other of his letters, and might be derived from a similar statement attributed to Jean de La Bruyère, though unsourced: "Life is a tragedy for those who feel, and a comedy for those who think". An earlier form occurs in another published letter:
    • I have often said, and oftener think, that this world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel — a solution of why Democritus laughed and Heraclitus wept.
      • Letter to Sir Horace Mann (31 December 1769)
  • It was easier to conquer it [the East] than to know what to do with it.
    • Letter to Sir Horace Mann (27 March 1772)
  • A careless song, with a little nonsense in it now and then, does not misbecome a monarch.
    • Letter to Sir Horace Mann (1774); this is derived from an proverb of unknown authorship: "A little nonsense now and then / Is relished by the wisest men".
  • The way to ensure summer in England is to have it framed and glazed in a comfortable room.
    • Letter to Willam Cole (28 May 1774)
  • The next Augustan age will dawn on the other side of the Atlantic. There will, perhaps, be a Thucydides at Boston, a Xenophon at New York, and, in time, a Virgil at Mexico, and a Newton at Peru. At last, some curious traveller from Lima will visit England and give a description of the ruins of St Paul’s, like the editions of Balbec and Palmyra.
    • Letter to Sir Horace Mann (24 November 1774)
  • To act with common sense, according to the moment, is the best wisdom I know; and the best philosophy, to do one's duties, take the world as it comes, submit respectfully to one's lot, bless the goodness that has given us so much happiness with it, whatever it is, and despise affectation.
    • Letter to Sir Horace Mann (27 May 1776)
  • The whole nation hitherto has been void of wit and humour, and even incapable of relishing it.
    • On Scotland, in a etter to Sir Horace Mann (1778); comparable to "It requires a surgical operation to get a joke well into a Scotch understanding", by Sydney Smith, Lady Holland's Memoir, vol. i. p. 15.
  • Prognostics do not always prove prophecies, — at least the wisest prophets make sure of the event first.
    • Letter to Thomas Walpole (19 February 1785)
  • Allen of Bath procured them the same honours from thence; and for some weeks it rained gold boxes: Chester, Worcester, Norwich, Bedford, Salisbury, Yarmouth, Tewkesbury, Newcastle-on-Tyne, Stirling, and other populous and chief towns following the example. Exeter, with singular affection, sent boxes of heart of oak.
    • "The sending of boxes to William Pitt in 1757" in Memoirs of the Reign of King George II (London, 1846–47), Vol. II, p. 202
  • Posterity always degenerates till it becomes our ancestors.
    • As quoted in "The Works of Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford" in The Monthly Review, or, Literary Journal, Vol. 27 (1798) edited by Ralph Griffiths, p. 187
  • Men are often capable of greater things than they perform. They are sent into the world with bills of credit, and seldom draw to their full extent.
    • As quoted in "The Works of Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford" in The Monthly Review, or, Literary Journal, Vol. 27 (1798) edited by Ralph Griffiths, p. 187
  • He was my counsel in affairs, was my oracle in taste, the standard to whom I submitted my trifles, and the genius that presided over poor Strawberry.
    • On the death of his friend John Chute (1776)
    • As quoted in The National Trust Magazine, Spring 2011, p. 09
All quotes from the text of "The Castle of Otranto" at Project Gutenberg
  • Manfred was not one of those savage tyrants who wanton in cruelty unprovoked. The circumstances of his fortune had given an asperity to his temper, which was naturally humane; and his virtues were always ready to operate, when his passions did not obscure his reason.
    • Section 1
  • “Peace, simpleton!” said the Princess. “Though he said he was unhappy, it does not follow that he must be in love.”
    • Section 2
  • Have done with this rhapsody of impertinence.
    • Section 2
  • And is anybody unhappy about another, unless they are in love with them?
    • Section 2
  • “Heaven,” replied Manfred, “does not send Heralds to question the title of a lawful Prince. I doubt whether it even notifies its will through Friars—but that is your affair, not mine.
    • Section 3
  • You think me ambitious: ambition, alas! is composed of more rugged materials. If I were ambitious, I should not for so many years have been a prey to all the hell of conscientious scruples.
    • Section 3
  • “My councils do not need a Friar’s intervention,” said Manfred; “and of all men living is that hoary traitor the only one whom you delight to confer with?”
    • Section 4


Originally published in 1799 by John Pinkerton. Quotations are from the 1825 printing
  • The Americans are mostly engaged in trade and plantations. Their chief object is to make money. And, in truth, money is freedom.
    • 'Americans', p. 5
  • These horrible affairs in France are the offspring of fanaticism. Yes, sir; if the reformation had taken place there, as well as here, religion and the clergy would have been respected, as they are here. Fanatics make atheists. If I cannot believe in God without believing that a wafer is God, my reason abjures the deity. I wish religion to exist: it is of infinite use to society, and I therefore wish it to be as rational as possible. A synod of the English church might order several objectionable tenets and expressions of our worship to be altered. I love those reformations that prevent revolutions, by keeping pace with the gradual progress of reason and knowledge.
    • 'Atheism the Offspring of Fanaticism', p. 10
  • Lord Bolingbroke discovered a foible of the great duke of Marlborough, that he delighted in tying Miss Jenning's garters. When he repeated the story, he used to add, "What is known to women is known to the world."
    • 'Bolingbroke and Marlborough', p. 15
  • Lord Bute was my schoolfellow. He was a man of taste and science, and I do believe his intentions were good. He wished to blend and unite all parties. The Tories were willing to come in for a share of power, after having been so long excluded—but the Whigs were not willing to grant that share. Power is an intoxicating draught; the more a man has, the more he desires.
    • 'Bute's Ministry', p. 22
  • Sir Robert Walpole used to say, that it was fortunate so few men could be prime ministers, as it was best that few should thoroughly know the shocking wickedness of mankind.
    I never heard him say, that all men have their prices; and I believe no such expression ever came from his mouth.
    • 'Corruption', p. 30
  • William, Duke of Cumberland, gave promises of talents that were never accomplished. One day he had given some offence to his royal mother, and was remanded to the confinement of his chamber. After what the queen thought a sufficient duration of his punishment, she sent for him. He returned in a very sullen humour. "What have you been doing?" said the queen.—"Reading."—"What book?"—"The New Testament."—"Very well. What part?"—"Where it is said, Woman, why troublest thou me?"
    • 'William, Duke of Cumberland', p. 33
  • A fig for our democrats! [1792]. Barking dogs never bite. The danger in France arose from silent and instantaneous action. They said nothing, and did every thing—ours say every thing, and will do nothing.
    • 'Democrats', p. 34
  • I visit Paris often, and have considerably studied the French character. In individuals it is often excellent; but taken in general it disgusts by its petulance and vanity. The French have always been dissolute in their amours; and are thus led to assail the chastity of foreign women, the most unpardonable of all affronts to fathers, brothers, husbands, and lovers. This, and their petulant overbearing conduct, prevent their conquests from being lasting. Yes, I swear to you by the Sicilian vespers, they can never be of much duration.
    • 'French Characters', p. 49
  • Mr. Hollis is always publishing republican books, and yet professes great veneration for our constitution. I cannot reconcile this; our constitution being, in its leading part, an oligarchy, the form, perhaps, of all others, the most opposite to a republic.
    • 'Mr. Hollis', p. 68
  • I have sometimes thought that a squire and a vestry were a king and republic in miniature. The vestry is as tyrannic, in its way, as the squire in his. Any power necessarily leads to abuses of that power. It is difficult to stop any impetus of nature.
    • 'King and Republic', p. 74
  • We must speak to the eyes, if we wish to affect the mind.
    • 'Maxim of Writing', p. 86
  • If Milton had written in Italian, he would have been, in my opinion, the most perfect poet in modern languages; for his own strength of thought would have condensed and hardened that speech to a proper degree.
    • 'Milton', p. 87
  • Though I admire republican principles in theory, yet I am afraid the practice may be too perfect for human nature. We tried a republic last century, and it failed. Let our enemies try next. I hate political experiments.
    • 'Republics', p. 116
  • Good men are never concerned in revolutions, because they will not go the lengths. Sunderland caused the revolution of 1688, while Devonshire stood aloof—the latter was the angel, the former the storm. Bad men and poisonous plants are sometimes of superlative use in skilful hands.
    • 'Revolutions', p. 117
  • Rousseau's ideas of savage life are puerile. He is equally absurd in supposing that no people can be free, if they entrust their freedom to representatives. What is every body's business is nobody's business. The people would soon be sick of such freedom; they must attend to their own private business, else they could not live. The people of France are easily electrified. We are too solid for such dreams. Amber may draw straws: we do not gravitate so easily.
    • 'Rousseau's Absurdities', p. 124
  • The critics generally consider a tragedy as the next effort of the mind to an epic poem. For my part, I estimate the difficulty of writing a good comedy to be greater than that of composing a good tragedy. Not only equal genius is required, but a comedy demands a more uncommon assemblage of qualities—knowledge of the world, wit, good sense, &c; and these qualities superadded to those requisite for tragical composition.
    • 'Tragedy and Comedy', p. 153
  • King William asked Mr. Locke how long he thought the revolution principles might last in England. The philosopher answered, "Till this generation shall have passed away, and our universities shall have had time to breed a new one." Many things I disapprove in our universities, where the country gentlemen are educated in Toryism by Tory clergy.
    • 'Universities', p. 157
  • To talk of the weather was once a matter of ridicule. But that soon went out; for the weather is, in fact, so important in this changeable climate, that our health and bread depend on it. There are also numerous classes in this island, farmers, seamen, &c. &c. whose very existence depends on the weather. It is idle to deny that the state of our spirits depends on the weather: the stoutest man cannot take exercise on a rainy day, and must feel ennui, because he cannot divide his time as usual. For my part, I care as little for the weather as any; and I sometimes say, that all I want is cold winters, and hot summers.
    • 'Weather', p. 164
  • We must thank the Whigs for all the prosperity of our country. The Tories have only thrown us into disagreeable crises. It is risible to hear the latter boast of the public happiness, which is wholly the work of their antagonists. They are so absurd as to regret the national freedom, the sole source of the wealth on which they fatten. Sic vos non vobis mellificatis apes! Had the Tories succeeded at the revolution, or accession, this fair country would have been another Spain; the desolate abode of nobles and priests. What has rendered it the wonder and envy of Europe? Freedom. One would wonder that any man would conspire against the general felicity—but this infatuation arises from the esprit du corps, which can even produce mental blindness—can instigate its unhappy devotee to destroy the hen that lays the golden eggs.
    • 'Whigs and Tories', pp. 165-166


  • The whole secret of life is to be interested in one thing profoundly and in a thousand things well.
    • Widely misattributed in print and on the internet, this is actually Hugh Walpole, in Reading : An Essay (1926)

Quotes about Horace Walpole

  • He was born a writer of letters, and if he had been shut up in a desert island like Robinson Crusoe he would have written letters all the same, and kept them till some ship arrived which should carry them to their destination.
  • One thing that happens with gothic novels is the idea of the evil Other. That’s quite clear if you read Walpole or Radcliffe. It’s often an evil Italian or an evil Spaniard. Catholicism is mixed with that. It’s like these exotic evil Catholic people that are coming to pervert us.