A Real-life ‘Barry Lyndon’: The Adventurous Career of Horace St Paul (Part I)

Helion author Neil Cogswell tells the story of Horace St Paul, whose extraordinary career has more than a little in common with the eponymous hero of Thackeray’s novel and its Stanley Kubrik film adaptation. Neil’s first annotated volume of St Paul’s Seven Years War journal and other papers has been published by Helion under the title Lobositz to Leuthen as the first book in our new series From Reason to Revolution 1721-1815: the second volume will be published in the autumn of 2017 as Olmütz to Torgau.


Horace St Paul in 1748

The first-born son of Robert Paul and his wife Judith, née Collins, was baptized Horatio at St Olave’s Church, Hart Street in the City of London on 17 May 1729. Horatio would be joined by five sisters, only one of whom married, and one brother – a lifelong bachelor. Robert Paul (born 1686) was a Justice of the Peace and a Fellow of the Royal Society; he was also a friend and supporter of Sir Robert Walpole through whose influence he for some time held the lucrative post of Collector of Customs for the Port of London. Horatio was so christened as a compliment to Sir Robert Walpole who had chosen that name for his first-born son. Horatio’s mother was an heiress in her own right and it was through her line that Ewart House and the estates pertaining to it entered the family.

From this privileged background, Horatio – or Horace as he was more commonly called – was destined for a career in law and entered Gray’s Inn. Like other students, Horace Paul was highly sociable and that sociability would lead to an unfortunate incident which was greatly to affect his later life. Despite using the third person in this account, Horace told that story in his own words in a memorial to accompany his letter to the King in which, in 1765, he sought pardon for the offence.

Narrative of the Unfortunate Affair Between Mr Paul and Mr Dalton

On Friday the 24th May 1751 Mr Paul in company with his sisters, Mr Blackburne, Mr Dalton and some other Ladies were at a visit at Miss Green’s. During the visit, Mr Dalton, who as it appeared afterwards made his addresses to the youngest sister, took a snuff box out of his pocket and was asked by her for a pinch of snuff. It is to be observed that this snuff box was the lady’s own, and had been taken from her a few days before by Mr Dalton to prevent her taking too much snuff. Some time after she asked Mr Paul for a pinch of snuff, and he gave her one. Some of the company saw that Mr Dalton was affected by this circumstance, but Mr Paul did not for, being ignorant of the connections formed between Mr Dalton and Miss Green, he did not expect so trifling a civility to the lady could be matter of offence to Mr Dalton.

A little after, Miss Green asked Mr Paul if he tasted her snuff, and then, at her request Mr Dalton gave Mr Paul her box and, while he held the box, Miss Green said: “Mr Paul, as you are my friend, you’ll keep it.” Upon this Mr Dalton said he was sure that Mr Paul would give it again to the person from whom he had it. Mr Paul, not from opposition, but merely in gaiety and complaisance, replied that he must preferably obey the Lady’s command. Upon this, Mr Dalton sprung from his chair with an air of great anger, which Mr Paul could not account for, and attempted to wrest from him the box as he sat in his chair. Mr Paul continued sitting, and the struggle that ensued was conducted on the part of Mr Dalton with so much vehemence and indecorum, that the treatment Mr Paul received amounted nearly to blows, so that the Ladies were sufficiently alarmed to interpose and desire Mr Paul to give it up. He did so, and said to Mr Dalton: “Since you make a serious affair of it, there it is.” Mr Paul though it necessary some acknowledgement should be made for what had passed, and, in this persuasion as soon as he could, he took the resolution of calling at Mr Dalton’s house and sending for him, who, it was natural to suppose, upon reflection would have been inclined to make that sort of verbal acknowledgement, which was all that Mr Paul wanted.

That Mr Dalton was conscious his behaviour to Mr Paul had been such as he might expect to be called upon for an explanation of is apparent from the conversation that passed between Mr Dalton and Mr Blackburne at the Braunds-head Tavern, where those gentlemen retired upon leaving the Ladies. Mr Blackburne there told Mr Dalton that he was sorry for what had passed, but hoped nothing further would come of it. Mr Dalton replied that he hoped so too, but said that Mr Paul could not but take notice of it, and added that he would not ask his pardon. He went on and asked Mr Blackburne whether upon being called upon by Mr Paul, his courage would be questioned if he desired a day to settle his affairs. He consulted Mr Blackburne whether it was better for him to fight with Pistols or with Swords.

Mr Blackburne told him that he thought it better to make use of swords, for with pistols both parties were often killed and that with swords one if not both generally escaped. Mr Dalton then drew his sword, tried it on the table, and said: “I will receive Paul’s thrust with my left hand, and depend upon one I shall make with my right.”

Mr Paul and Mr Dalton met at Mr Dalton’s house, in consequence of being sent to by Mr Paul. When Mr Dalton came into the room to Mr Paul, he instantly said: “I know it cannot be avoided, I told Blackburne so,” and added “if you will, we will do it here,” and proposed to make use of pistols, to which Mr Paul agreed; but Mr Dalton said pistols did not signify, or words to that effect, and saying something about mourning swords being generally bad, proposed going upstairs to change his, and asked Mr Paul if he would do the same, who said it was indifferent to him, on which Mr Dalton observing that Mr Paul’s sword was as bad as his own, desisted.

Mr Dalton was the first that drew his sword, and bending it upon the ground, he measured blades with Mr Paul. Mr Paul declares that he himself acted chiefly upon the defensive, that in moving about the room a table on which candles stood was thrown down and the candles put out, whereupon Mr Dalton went out of the room and brought in another lighted candle. About this time, Mr Paul says they heard a great knocking at the door, which Mr Dalton said was somebody come to prevent them, and went out of the room and gave directions that nobody should be let in, and then returned. Mr Dalton pressed very hard upon Mr Paul, who very soon thought that he had wounded Mr Dalton in his sword arm, and desired him to desist, saying: “I am afraid that you are wounded,” but Mr Dalton, still pressing upon him, received another wound and staggered and fell. Upon this Mr Paul dropped his sword and ran for the surgeons.

If the unfortunate Mr Paul, by anything above recited, has offended against the letter of the Law, he hopes the warmth and inexperience of a young man, not much above twenty years old, acting under the prejudices of custom and the laws of honour, may be some excuse and entitle him to compassion, and he hopes farther that it appears that the unhappy method of the deciding the dispute was not what he wished or meant to insist on, but, that the least acknowledgement on the part of Mr Dalton would have avoided it.


Despairing of the possible outcome of this unfortunate affair, when the Coroner directed that he should stand trial for wilful murder, Horace Paul fled to France, where he had spent some time the previous year. The Duc de Penthièvre acted as his host, and in his company he met many distinguished persons including Prince Charles of Lorraine, Governor of the Austrian Netherlands and the brother-in-law of Maria Theresa the Empress Queen of Austria.

During this time of banishment Horace adopted as his surname the form St Paul that was long dormant in his family but more familiar to French and Flemish ears and was probably more acceptable in the circles in which he moved. During this time, he also received a substantial allowance from his father.

To be Continued in Part II…

Neil Cogswell, March 2017

Lobositz to Leuthen. Horace St Paul and the Campaigns of the Austrian Army in the Seven Years War 1756-57 can be purchased from Helion here.

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