George Selwyn was one of Walpole's oldest friends. His mother had been in love with Robert Walpole and his sister married one of Horace's cousins. A well known wit, he was equally celebrated for his necrophilia: his taste for executions--some say he attended them dressed as a woman--was legendary. Expelled from Oxford for a blasphemous mockery of the mass, Selwyn was one of the inner twelve members of the Hellfire Club. Another member of the group was the poet Thomas Potter, also accused of necrophilia.

Selwyn's obsession with executions and corpses was so well known he is referenced in Melmoth the Wanderer, de Goncourt's Le Faustin, and Chrysal; or, the Adventures of a Guinea, by Charles Johnstone. It was widely reported that he had travelled to Paris to witness the protracted torture death of the failed regicide Robert Damiens by drawing and quartering. His manner was such that an aristocrat at the scene asked him if he were an executioner and he replied No, monsieur, I have not that honour; I am only an amateur.

When Selwyn made a visit to the dying Henry Fox, he was refused admission. Fox learning of this quipped, If Mr. Selwyn calls again, show him up. If I am alive, I shall be glad to see him, and if I am dead, I am sure he will be delighted to see me!

In the poem The Diaboliad the Devil considers Selwyn as a possible successor:

The murmurs hush'd the Herald straight proclaimed
S-l-n the witty next in order nam'd
But he was gone to hear the dismal yells,
Of tortur'd Ghosts and suffering Criminals.
Tho' summoned thrice, he chose not to return,
Charmed to behold the crackling Culprits burn.
With George all know Ambition must give place
When there's an Execution in the case.

Selwyn didn't want Sheridan in his club Brooks because Sheridan's father had been on the stage. Each time Sheridan applied for membership, Selwyn would blackball him and prevent his entrance. After this had happened three times, Charles Fox and Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire had to resort to a ruse to get Selwyn and Lord Bessborough (who also disliked Sheridan, see Caroline Lamb) out of the club. Each assumed the other would be there to blackball Sheridan and each left to comply with an urgent call to attend a deathbed. Sheridan got in. (Another version of this story has the Prince of Wales (also a member of the Hellfire Club) detaining Selwyn in the hall while the vote took place.)

It is actually possible to become amateurs in suffering. I have heard of men who have travelled into countries where horrible executions were to be daily witnessed, for the sake of that excitement which the sight of suffering never fails to give, from the spectacle of a tragedy, or an auto da fe, down to the writhings of the meanest reptile on whom you can inflict torture, and feel that torture is the result of your own power. It is a species of feeling of which we never can divest ourselves.

Melmoth the Wanderer

Gothic Labyrinth
Gothic Labyrinth