Enfilade

Exhibition | Horace Walpole and Philanthropy

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on September 16, 2022

Now on view at The Walpole Library, with a rich and engaging online component:

‘Knight Errant of the Distressed’: Horace Walpole and Philanthropy in Eighteenth-Century London
The Lewis Walpole Library, Farmington, CT, 11 May — 22 December 2022

Curated by Andrew Rudd

‘Knight Errant of the Distressed’: Horace Walpole and Philanthropy in Eighteenth-Century London uses images, manuscripts, artefacts, and extracts from publications and correspondence to situate Walpole within the burgeoning philanthropic culture of his age. It reveals Walpole’s secret giving to prisoners and other good causes and examine the principles which underlay his philanthropy. A main aim of the exhibition is to stimulate discussion about philanthropy today.

Horace Walpole (1717–1797) lived in an age that prided itself on the extent of its philanthropy. His friend Hannah More described the era as the “age of benevolence.” Yet while Walpole was familiar with many leading philanthropists, he is not known as a supporter of good causes himself; indeed, after his death, he was accused of being uncharitable and even blamed for the suicide of the young poet Thomas Chatterton, who had sought Walpole’s financial assistance in vain.

This exhibition seeks to situate Walpole in the context of eighteenth-century British philanthropy. An array of philanthropic organizations, fundraising initiatives, and ad hoc giving formed part of everyday life in Britain under the reigns of George II and III. The rich were expected to support the poor and needy in order to supplement the overstretched parish-based welfare system. Walpole frequently dispatched anonymous donations to victims of misfortune he read about in his daily newspaper.

Walpole was drawn personally toward outlandish cases, and this exhibition portrays his active involvement in several high-profile campaigns, including the ill-fated encounter with Chatterton. Walpole could be disparaging in his remarks about philanthropy, but visitors are encouraged to weigh his private generosity. Walpole regarded philanthropy as a means to cultivate the curious and eccentric, a discernibly queer philanthropic vision in which he himself played the role of “knight errant of the distressed.”

Andrew Rudd, of the University of Exeter, researches and teaches British literature of the eighteenth century and Romantic period. His monograph, Sympathy and India in British Literature 1770–1830 (Palgrave Macmillan), was published in 2011, and he is currently writing a cultural history of charity in the eighteenth century. He has held numerous fellowships (most recently at Yale’s Lewis Walpole Library and the School of Advanced Studies in English, University of Jadavpur) and speaks regularly at conferences, seminars, and public events. Since 2015, he has been a member of the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Peer Review College.

In addition to the online exhibition, a 24-page exhibition brochure by Dr. Rudd is available for download.

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Andrew Rudd | Horace Walpole and Philanthropy in Eighteenth-Century England
Lewis Walpole Library, Farmington, Tuesday, 20 September 2022, 7.00pm

In partnership with the Farmington Libraries, Dr. Rudd will explore the rich and exciting world of philanthropy in eighteenth-century England. The talk will focus on the collector and man of letters Horace Walpole (1717–1797), who was a generous, if sometimes eccentric, supporter of the era’s good causes. Walpole’s giving habits illuminate a thriving culture of charitable relief which still finds echoes in philanthropy today.

Registration is available here»

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The Charitable Impulse: Philanthropic Values from the Eighteenth Century to Today
Dwight Hall at Yale, Wednesday, 21 September 2022, 4.00–6.00pm

A conversation jointly organized by The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University and Dwight Hall at Yale: Center for Public Service and Social Justice

In the eighteenth century, charitable acts and societies in England and the American colonies were motivated by an understanding of moral and ethical obligations of the ‘better off’ to do good works on behalf of the ‘needy’. Philanthropic organizations from this time reveal historical attitudes toward the benefit to the individual and the public of charitable activities. This panel will explore how views on privilege, agency, status, and the responsibilities of members of society to others have evolved over time, and the ways in which certain implicit understandings of why and how people should care for others remain unchanged.

 

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