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A succinct biography of Walpole, the most durable prime minister (1721-1742) in British history. Hill's (English History/Univ. of East Anglia) is a kindler, gentler biography of Walpole, a larger-than-life figure (""His memory was prodigious, his energy boundless and his exuberance sometimes overwhelming. His very size was exceptional""). Readers looking for the sort of detail found in J.H. Plumb's two-volume Sir Robert Walpole (1961) may look elsewhere; but Hill does restore some historical perspective to Walpole's legend. While some historians berate Walpole for being an overbearing leader, Hill shows how the prime minister ruled only at the leave of Parliament and the monarchy, either one of which could have asserted its authority over him at any time (Parliament finally did, ending Walpole's prime ministry in 1742). Hill also casts a rose-tinted light on Walpole's reputed corruption, by which he was said to have aided his parliamentary majorities. Rather, Hill asserts, this was no more than ""the use of classic methods of patronage management raised to a new standard of perfection by a master manipulator."" And while Walpole has often been poked fun at as a country squire who made good in politics, Hill sees the prime minister's success as a triumph of his self-projection and immense popularity. The author even leaves some of Walpole's more unsavory personal aspects hanging (such as the illegitimacy of his most famous son, Sir Horace, examined here only haltingly). Far from definitive, but adequate for those desiring a brief and favorable introduction to England's first genuine prime minister.

Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 1989
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton/Viking