Horace Walpole Correspondence


The electronic version of The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1937-1983) provides free online access to all 48 volumes of W.S. Lewis’s scholarly edition of the correspondence of Horace Walpole (1717-1797), youngest son of Sir Robert Walpole, England’s first Prime Minister.  Each page has been scanned and run through OCR (Optical Character Recognition) processing to enable scholars to browse the scanned pages as well as search the text for keywords.  In addition, users may browse indexes created from the OCR text, including indexes by date of correspondence and by name of correspondent as well as indexes to the illustrations and appendices. For more information about searching the electronic version of the Yale Edition, see the section below, “Searching, Browsing, Navigation and Display”.

The Yale Edition

In the preface to the first volume of this remarkable editing project, W.S. Lewis laid out the argument for a new edition of Walpole’s correspondence: 
“There are three good reasons for a new edition of Horace Walpole’s correspondence: to give a correct text, to include for the first time the letters to him, and to annotate the whole with the fullness that the most informative record of the time deserves…

“Its primary intention is to facilitate the studies of scholars in the eighteenth century. Sooner or later, the eighteenth century scholar, be his subject what it may, must consult Walpole’s correspondence. Politics, Society, Literature, and the Arts, these are the subjects which immediately come to mind when Horace Walpole is thought of, but there are as many more as there were divisions in eighteenth century life. This edition, through its index, hopes to lead the scholar, whether the subject of his search is Dr Johnson or ballooning, to whatever Walpole’s correspondence may have to say about it.”

For Lewis’s full explanation, see the Preface.

The work of almost a half a century, the Yale Edition set a new standard for scholarly editing by providing an authoritative text, extensive and informative annotations, and a comprehensive index.  The appendices include a wealth of supplementary texts, including writings by Walpole and several of his correspondents.  The edition is a major contribution to the political, social, and cultural history of Britain and remains a critical resource for eighteenth-century studies. Reviews of the printed volumes included the following:

“Here is one of the most notable literary projects of all time. The correspondence and abundant and scrupulously accurate footnotes transport us in time and space to Walpole’s England, with its politics, its literature, its society, and its gossip.”—New York Times

“The Lewis Walpole edition has … given us not only the text (complete and unexpurgated) of one of the eighteenth century’s great letter writers—a man conspicuous in its literature, art, history, politics, and gossip—but also, through the ample footnotes, a running commentary on almost every aspect of the life and thought of that century. The edition is as much historical encyclopedia as literary document.”—Virginia Quarterly Review

“[The project] sets new standards for scholarship: the index alone comprises five volumes and more than 3,000 entries. One historian noted that the Yale project collected ‘more information about a single human life than was ever done before.’”—Bruce Jacobsen, New York Times

The Editorial Method for the Yale Edition

When searching the electronic version of The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence, researchers should be aware of Lewis’s original editorial method:

“The first decision in editing this work was to publish the letters by correspondences and not chronologically. The Advisory Committee, I believe, are now unanimous that this decision is the right one, since most of the major correspondences and many of the minor ones have a predominant subject. … A much more difficult decision, and one in which the Advisory Committee are by no means unanimous, was what to do about ‘normalization.’ The decision was to retain Walpole’s punctuation and spelling of proper names, but to normalize other spellings and capitalization. A list of Walpole’s obsolete spellings is given on page xliii. It is often not possible to tell whether Walpole intended a capital, and the extra labour and expense of printing it (incorrectly, no doubt, in many cases), have not seemed to justify the securing of something which, to many is relatively unimportant. … Square brackets indicate editorial emendation; angular brackets, the restoration of the manuscript where it is mutilated.”

To read Lewis’s full explanation of the editorial method, view p. xxxv of volume 1 in the Yale Edition.

For selections of Walpole’s spellings that differ from modern usage and have been retained in the Yale Edition, refer to volume 1, p. xliii .

Another editorial decision was to follow Walpole’s punctuation exactly, while that of his correspondents was normalized to some extent.

Future development and Feedback 

The library plans to enhance this electronic edition and welcomes your feedback as this resource is developed.  Please send questions and comments to project leaders George Ouellette, Senior Programmer/Analyst, the Lewis Walpole Library, and Ellen Cordes, Head of Technical Services, the Lewis Walpole Library

Searching, Browsing, Navigation and Display

*Please use a browser other than Internet Explorer for best results.

[This site requires the free Adobe Acrobat browser plug-in; version 9 or later is recommended. You may download the plug-in here. ]

The Search screen of the electronic version of the Yale Edition provides keyword searching for words across all volumes.  Searching for a phrase is not currently possible, so a search for “strawberry hill” will retrieve all instances of “strawberry” and “hill” that appear on the same page, whether or not the two words are adjacent.

The Search Results will display, from left to right, the volume numbers, the volume titles, and the total number of pages in which the search term(s) appear. Click on a Volume number to see a list of the specific Page numbers where the search term(s) appear in that volume.  Finally, click on a Page number to see the page image; the search term will be highlighted on the image.  Use Previous Page and Next Page to browse back or forward in that volume.

If you are using version 9 or higher of Adobe Acrobat, you also have the option of searching for other words on a page by using the search box in the menu to the left of the image. Using the icons above the image you may Print, Save, Enlarge, or Rotate the image; you may also right-click your mouse to see other options.  [Note: If you wish to enlarge the image of the page to facilitate reading, close the menu portion of the screen by clicking on the Collapse button in the upper right corner of the menu screen.] 

The Search screen also allows researchers to enter a Volume Number, a Page Number, and then click Go to retrieve the pages of a specific citation.

Diacritics and punctuation: Diacritics display in the images of the pages but are ignored in searching – e.g., séance produces the same results as seance.  [Note: The OCR processing was not 100% successful in recognizing all diacritics, so when searching for words that include diacritics, you may wish to verify your results by replacing the letter that should appear with a diacritic with the letter “Z”, which is how the OCR interpreted the letter with the diacritic.]

Hyphens and apostrophes (and any characters following an apostrophe) are ignored if they are included in a search term – e.g., “Strawberry-hill” and “Strawberry hill” will produce the same results. Searches on “Walpole” and “Walpole’s” will produce identical results.

Browse images of original letters. Digital images of the original manuscript letters in the library’s collection are also available. While browsing the collection by date and correspondent, an additional link will be visible directing the user to view the original document. Also, while viewing the OCR pages, if an image of an original manuscript letter is available, a link will appear above the whole page. Only original manuscript letters held by the library have images included; therefore not every letter in Horace Walpole’s Correspondence will have an associated image.

Browse by volumes:  The Search screen also offers the option to browse all 48 volumes of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence.  Click on Browse by Volumes to see the list of titles grouped by series. Click on the volume number in the Main Sequence to begin viewing the individual images of the pages, starting with the front cover and continuing page-by-page, including any blanks, just as if you were browsing the physical volumes.  Use Previous Page and Next Page to scroll through the volumes, or enter a new page number in the box labeled Page above the image and click Go to jump to a specific page within that volume.

Additional browsing options:   In addition to the virtual page-turning, you may:

Browse by correspondents:  Select any letter of the alphabet to see the list of correspondents’ names that begin with that letter.  Click on the name to get a list of the correspondent’s letters to and from Walpole, organized by date.  Adjustments have been made for letters dated using the “old style”.

The correspondences are arranged under the names by which the correspondents are best known. Refer to volume 43, pp. 427-442 to view the printed Index of Horace Walpole’s Correspondents, which includes cross-references from other names or titles. Letters to or from unidentified persons are listed under “Unknown”.

Browse letters by date:  Select a year to see the chronological list of letters to and from Walpole along with the name of Walpole’s correspondent.  Click on the document date to view the image of the letter in the Yale Edition. 

  • OS (“old style”) and NS (“new style”). Letters preceding the change of calendar in 1752 are arranged in the sequence in which they were actually written, allowing eleven days’ difference between “new style” letters from the Continent, and “old style” letters from England.
  • Missing letters are marked by an asterisk (*).
  • Letters printed here for the first time in the Yale Edition are marked by a dagger (†).
  • Letters printed in full for the first time are marked by a double dagger (‡).

Refer to volume 43, pp. 445-648 to see the printed chronological list of letters.

Browse illustrations: Use Browse Illustrations to view a list of the captions used for the illustrations published in the first 42 volumes of the Yale Edition.  Click on any of the captions to view the illustration as it was published in the volume. [Note: You may need to use your browser’s Rotate Image option to re-orient the image for proper viewing.]

For subject access to the illustrations, refer to the printed index in volume 43, pp. 395-424.

Browse appendices: Use Browse Appendices to view a list of the titles of the appendices published in the first 42 volumes of the Yale Edition.  Works included in the appendices are organized by volume number. Click on the title to begin viewing the text.

Indexes in The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence. In addition to the indexes printed at the end of each volume or series, volumes 44-48 provide a comprehensive index that includes, to quote W.S. Lewis, “not only Walpole’s correspondence but his own footnotes to that correspondence and also such unpublished MSS, and extracts from periodicals, as we have printed in appendices or quoted in our own footnotes.” Quoting further from the Preface to the Index:

“Besides hundreds of individuals, this index includes events, objects, publications, and the whole fabric of political, social, financial, artistic, military, and literary history so far as it is portrayed in our volumes. There are special group-headings for topics such as Costume, Food, Landscape effects, Law, Medicine, Music, Opera, Painting, Religion, Theatre, War, etc.”

For more information about using the index and a key to the abbreviations, refer to the Preface to the Index in volume 44, beginning on p. vii. [Note:  Future enhancements to the electronic version of the Yale Edition include hyperlinking references in the Index to the appropriate pages in the text.  While this feature is under development, researchers may wish to open a second instance of the electronic version in another browser window to facilitate copying and pasting citations as they navigate through the Index.]