Georgian author, aristocrat and aesthete Horace Walpole was one of the first writers who was able to launch an aesthetic movement to match his writing, predating Sir Walter Scott and his cod-Highland pageantry, or William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement. And a recent visit to The Vyne in Hampshire gave me some insight into how this came about, and how Walpole and his collaborators launched the Gothic Revival style and the Gothic movement in literature.
John Chute (1701–1776), owner of The Vyne, was an amateur architect and connoisseur, who first met Walpole. When Walpole first started to redesign his house Strawberry Hill in the mid-1750s using motifs derived from actual Gothic buildings, he chose Chute as one of his “Committee of Taste” for the project. The Committee would meet in the study at The Vyne, in the picture above, to discuss the work. Chute eventually designed most of the exterior of Strawberry Hill, and some of the interior. Walpole apparently regarded him as an “oracle of taste.”
The Gothic literature angle came slightly later in 1765, when Walpole had a dream in his new home, which inspired him to write The Castle of Otranto, celebrated as the first Gothic novel. Its rather farcical proceedings were quite a good match for the playful gingerbread Gothic of Strawberry Hill, but the book started a fashion which swept Europe and laid the foundations for much more serious work later on. Engravings of scenes from the novel flank the desk at The Vyne – although Chute himself left his own house far more traditionally classical (see below).