In March of 1739 Horace Walpole set out on his Grand Tour, with his friend Thomas Gray; by November he was crossing the Alps. In those days the crossing was made over the pass at Mont Cenis. Besides his friend and a train of servants and whatnot, Walpole also brought his little dog, Tory; a gift to Walpole from Lord Conway, during the former's stay in Paris. Conway had been given it in turn by the widow of one Alderman Parsons, concerning whom history is otherwise silent¹. Here follows the first part of a letter of Walpole's to Richard West about the crossing; to a brutal individual like myself it is very funny.
Turin, Nov. 11, 1739, N.S.
So, as the song says, we are in fair Italy! I wonder we are; for, on the very highest precipice of Mount Cenis, the Devil of Discord in the similitude of sour wine had got amongst our Alpine savages, and set them a-fighting, with Gray and me in the chairs: they rushed him by me on a crag where there was scarce room for a cloven foot. The least slip had tumbled us into such a fog, and such an eternity, as we should never have found our way out of again. We were eight days in coming hither from Lyons; the four last in crossing the Alps. Such uncouth rocks and such uncomely inhabitants! my dear West, I hope I shall never see them again! At the foot of Mount Cenis we were obliged to quit our chaise, which was taken all to pieces and loaded on mules, and we were carried in low arm-chairs on poles, swathed in beaver bonnets, beaver gloves, beaver stockings, muffs, and bear-skins. When we came to the top, behold the snows fallen! and such quantities, and conducted by such heavy clouds that hung glouting, that I thought we could never have waded through them. The descent is two leagues, but steep, and rough as O—'s father's face, over which, you know, the Devil walked with hobnails in his shoes². But the dexterity and nimbleness of the mountaineers is inconceivable; they run with you down steeps and frozen precipices, where no man, as men are now, could possibly walk. We had twelve men and nine mules to carry us, our servants and baggage, and were above five hours in this agreeable jaunt! The day before, I had a cruel accident, and so extraordinary a one, that it seems to touch upon the traveller³. I had brought with me a little black spaniel, of King Charles's breed; but the prettiest, fattest, dearest creature! I had let it out of the chaise for the air, and it was waddling along close to the head of the horses, on the top of one of the highest Alps, by the side of a wood of firs. There darted out a young wolf, seized poor dear Tory by the throat, and, before we could possibly prevent it, sprung up the side of the rock and carried him off. The postilion jumped off and struck at him with his whip, but in vain. I saw it and screamed, but in vain; for the road was so narrow, that the servants that were behind could not get by the chaise to shoot him. What is the extraordinary part is, that it was but two o'clock, and broad sunshine. It was shocking to see anything one loved run away with to so horrid a death. [...]
1: The provenance of the dog Tory comes from another letter of Walpole's, to Rev. Cole — written much after the fact in 1775, but there seems no substantial reason to question it.
2: This reasonably bizarre yet delightful simile is explicated by the notes to the Yale edition of Walpole's letters as a reference to a work by John Oldham called Character of a Certain Ugly Old Priest; O— then is Oldham, and the father is not his own, but a clerical Father.
3: Again according to the Yale Edition, »traveller« here is sometimes glossed as an editorial misreading of the word »marvellous« in unclear handwriting, but the same figure of speech is used at one point by West. It seems incredible to think the same mistake would be made twice with two different handwritings. Rather, what is meant is probably a »traveller« as in a traveling yarn, one that makes the rounds, or else a traveller's tall tale.
Finally, whosoever feels inclined to read the forty-two volumes of Horace Walpole's correspondence on a screen is able to do so online here, courtesy of the Yale Library.