We can’t know what Horace Walpole would make of the continuing popularity of serendipity, a word he coined in 1754 to describe the accidental happy discovery of a Renaissance portrait he had long been seeking. In 2001 it became the title of a romantic comedy and this year of a song by a South Korean boy band, which has had 74 million hits on YouTube. But we can imagine that he would be pleased that his lifelong effort to leave his mark on posterity has been so successful.
He was born (in 1717) with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, the youngest son of the all-powerful Sir Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford and effectively Britain’s first prime minister. At 21 he was given government sinecures producing some £2,000 a year, and at 24 a seat in Parliament, freeing him from the need to earn a living.