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Ch. 7: The Gothic Revival

One of Thomas Warton's sonnets was addressed to Richard Hurd, afterward Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, and later of Worcester. Hurd was a friend of Gray and Mason, and his "Letters on Chivalry and Romance" (1762) helped to initiate the romantic movement. They perhaps owed their inspiration, in part, to Sainte Palaye's "Mémoires sur l'ancienne Chevalerie," the first volume of which was issued in 1759, though the third and concluding volume appeared only in 1781. This was a monumental work and, as a standard authority, bears much the same relation to the literature of its subject that Mallet's "Histoire de Dannemarc" bears to all the writing on Runic mythology that was done in Europe during the eighteenth-century. Jean Baptiste de la Curne de Sainte Palaye was a scholar of wide learning, not only in the history of mediaeval institutions but in old French dialects. He went to the south of France to familiarize himself with Provençal: collected a large library of Provençal books and manuscripts, and published in 1774 his "Histoire de Troubadours." Among his other works are a "Dictionary of French Antiquities," a glossary of Old French, and an edition of "Aucassin et Nicolete." Mrs. Susannah Dobson, who wrote "Historical Anecdotes of Heraldry and Chivalry" (1795), made an English translation of Sainte Palaye's "History of the Troubadours" in 1779, and of his "Memoirs of Ancient Chivalry" in 1784.

The purpose of Hurd's letters was to prove "the pre-eminence of the Gothic manners and fictions, as adapted to the ends of poetry, above the classic." "The greatest geniuses of our own and foreign countries," he affirms, "such as Ariosto and Tasso in Italy, and Spenser and Milton in England, were seduced by these barbarities of their forefathers; were even charmed by the Gothic romances. Was this caprice and absurdity in them? Or may there not be something in the Gothic Romance peculiarly suited to the view of a genius and to the ends of poetry? And may not the philosophic moderns have gone too far in their perpetual ridicule and contempt of it?" After a preliminary discussion of the origin of chivalry and knight-errantry and of the ideal knightly characteristics, "Prowess, Generosity, Gallantry, and Religion," which he derives from the military necessities of the feudal system, he proceeds to establish a "remarkable correspondency between the manners of the old heroic times, as painted by their romancer, Homer, and those which are represented to us in the books of modern knight-errantry." He compares, e.g., the Laestrygonians, Cyclopes_, _Circes, and Calypsos of Homer, with the giants, paynims, sorceresses encountered by the champions of romance; the Greek aoixoi with the minstrels; the Olympian games with tournaments; and the exploits of Hercules and Theseus, in quelling dragons and other monsters, with the similar enterprises of Lancelot and Amadis de Gaul. The critic is daring enough to give the Gothic manners the preference over the heroic. Homer, he says, if he could have known both, would have chosen the former by reason of "the improved gallantry of the feudal times, and the superior solemnity of their superstitions. The gallantry which inspirited the feudal times was of a nature to furnish the poet with finer scenes and subjects of description, in every view, than the simple and uncontrolled barbarity of the Grecian. . . There was a dignity, a magnificence, a variety in the feudal, which the other wanted."

An equal advantage, thinks Hurd, the romancers enjoyed over the pagan poets in the point of supernatural machinery. "For the more solemn fancies of witchcraft and incantation, the horrors of the Gothic were above measure striking and terrible. The mummeries of the pagan priests were childish, but the Gothic enchanters shook and alarmed all nature. . . You would not compare the Canidia of Horace with the witches in 'Macbeth.' And what are Virgil's myrtles, dropping blood, to Tasso's enchanted forest?. . . The fancies of our modern bards are not only more gallant, but . . . more sublime, more terrible, more alarming than those of the classic fables. In a word, you will find that the manners they paint, and the superstitions they adopt, are the more poetical for being Gothic."

Evidently the despised "Gothick" of Addison—as Mr. Howells puts it—was fast becoming the admired "Gothic" of Scott. This pronunciamento of very advanced romantic doctrine came out several years before Percy's "Reliques" and "The Castle of Otranto." It was only a few years later than Thomas Warton's "Observations on the Faërie Queene" and Joseph's "Essay on Pope," but its views were much more radical. Neither of the Wartons would have ventured to pronounce the Gothic manners superior to the Homeric, as materials for poetry, whatever, in his secret heart, he might have thought.[1] To Johnson such an opinion must have seemed flat blasphemy. Hurd accounts for the contempt into which the Gothic had fallen on the ground that the feudal ages had never had the good fortune to possess a great poet, like Homer, capable of giving adequate artistic expression to their life and ideals. Carent vate sacro. Spenser and Tasso, he thinks, "came too late, and it was impossible for them to paint truly and perfectly what was no longer seen or believed. . . As it is, we may take a guess of what the subject was capable of affording to real genius from the rude sketches we have of it in the old romancers. . . The ablest writers of Greece ennobled the system of heroic manners, while it was fresh and flourishing; and their works being masterpieces of composition, so fixed the credit of it in the opinion of the world, that no revolution of time and taste could afterward shake it. Whereas the Gothic, having been disgraced in their infancy by bad writers, and a new set of manners springing up before there were any better to do them justice, they could never be brought into vogue by the attempts of later poets." Moreover, "the Gothic manners of chivalry, as springing out of the feudal system, were as singular as that system itself; so that when that political constitution vanished out of Europe, the manners that belonged to it were no longer seen or understood. There was no example of any such manners remaining on the face of the earth. And as they never did subsist but once, and are never likely to subsist again, people would be led of course to think and speak of them as romantic and unnatural."

Even so, he thinks that the Renaissance poets, Ariosto and Spenser, owe their finest effects not to their tinge of classical culture but to their romantic materials. Shakspere "is greater when he uses Gothic manners and machinery, than when he employs classical." Tasso, to be sure, tried to trim between the two, by giving an epic form to his romantic subject-matter, but Hurd pronounces his imitations of the ancients "faint and cold and almost insipid, when compared with his original fictions. . . If it was not for these lies [magnanima mensogna] of Gothic invention, I should scarcely be disposed to give the 'Gierusalemme Liberata' a second reading." Nay, Milton himself, though finally choosing the classic model, did so only after long hesitation. "His favorite subject was Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. On this he had fixed for the greater part of his life. What led him to change his mind was partly, as I suppose, his growing fanaticism; partly his ambition to take a different route from Spenser; but chiefly, perhaps, the discredit into which the stories of chivalry had now fallen by the immortal satire of Cervantes. Yet we see through all his poetry, where his enthusiasm flames out most, a certain predilection for the legends of chivalry before the fables of Greece." Hurd says that, if the "Faërie Queene" be regarded as a Gothic poem, it will be seen to have unity of design, a merit which even the Wartons had denied it. "When an architect examines a Gothic structure by the Grecian rules he finds nothing but deformity. But the Gothic architecture has its own rules by which; when it comes to be examined, it is seen to have its merit, as well as the Grecian."

The essayist complains that the Gothic fables fell into contempt through the influence of French critics who ridiculed and disparaged the Italian romancers, Ariosto and Tasso. The English critics of the Restoration—Davenant, Hobbes, Shaftesbury—took their cue from the French, till these pseudo-classical principles "grew into a sort of a cant, with which Rymer and the rest of that school filled their flimsy essays and rumbling prefaces. . . The exact but cold Boileau happened to say something about the clinquant of Tasso," and "Mr. Addison,[2] who gave the law in taste here, took it up and sent it about," so that "it became a sort of watchword among the critics." "What we have gotten," concludes the final letter of the series, "by this revolution, is a great deal of good sense. What we have lost is a world of fine fabling, the illusion of which is so grateful to the charméd spirit that, in spite of philosophy and fashion 'Faery' Spenser still ranks highest among the poets; I mean with all those who are earlier come of that house, or have any kindness for it."

We have seen that, during the classical period, "Gothic," as a term in literary criticism, was synonymous with barbarous, lawless, and tawdry. Addison instructs his public that "the taste of most of our English poets, as well as readers, is extremely Gothic."[3] After commending the French critics, Bouhours and Boileau, for their insistence upon good sense, justness of thought, simplicity, and naturalness he goes on as follows: "Poets who want this strength of genius, to give that majestic simplicity to nature which we so much admire in the works of the ancients, are forced to hunt after foreign ornaments, and not to let any piece of wit, of what kind soever, escape them. I look upon these writers as Goths in poetry, who, like those in architecture, not being able to come up to the beautiful simplicity of the old Greeks and Romans, have endeavored to supply its place with all the extravagances of an irregular fancy." In the following paper (No. 63), an "allegorical vision of the encounter of True and False Wit," he discovers, "in a very dark grove, a monstrous fabric, built after the Gothic manner and covered with innumerable devices in that barbarous kind of sculpture." This temple is consecrated to the God of Dullness, who is "dressed in the habit of a monk." In his essay "On Taste" (No. 409) he says, "I have endeavored, in several of my speculations, to banish this Gothic taste which has taken possession among us."

The particular literary vice which Addison strove to correct in these papers was that conceited style which infected a certain school of seventeenth-century poetry, running sometimes into such puerilities as anagrams, acrostics, echo-songs, rebuses, and verses in the shape of eggs, wings, hour-glasses, etc. He names, as special representatives of this affectation, Herbert, Cowley, and Sylvester. But it is significant that Addison should have described this fashion as Gothic. It has in reality nothing in common with the sincere and loving art of the old builders. He might just as well have called it classic; for, as he acknowledges, devices of the kind are to be found in the Greek anthology, and Ovid was a poet given to conceits. Addison was a writer of pure taste, but the coldness and timidity of his imagination, and the maxims of the critical school to which he belonged, made him mistake for spurious decoration the efflorescence of that warm, creative fancy which ran riot in Gothic art. The grotesque, which was one expression of this sappy vigor, was abhorrent to Addison. The art and poetry of his time were tame, where Gothic art was wild; dead where Gothic was alive. He could not sympathize with it, nor understand it. "Vous ne pouvez pas le comprendre; vous avez toujours haï la vie."

I have quoted Vicesimus Knox's complaint that the antiquarian spirit was spreading from architecture and numismatics into literature.[4] We meet with satire upon antiquaries many years before this; in Pope, in Akenside's Spenserian poem "The Virtuoso" (1737); in Richard Owen Cambridge's "Scribleriad" (1751):

"See how her sons with generous ardor strive,
Bid every long-lost Gothic art revive,. . .
Each Celtic character explain, or show
How Britons ate a thousand years ago;
On laws of jousts and tournaments declaim,
Or shine, the rivals of the herald's fame.
But chief that Saxon wisdom be your care,
Preserve their idols and their fanes repair;
And may their deep mythology be shown
By Seater's wheel and Thor's tremendous throne."[5]

The most notable instance that we encounter of virtuosity invading the neighboring realm of literature is in the case of Strawberry Hill and "The Castle of Otranto." Horace Walpole, the son of the great prime minister, Robert Walpole, was a person of varied accomplishments and undoubted cleverness. He was a man of fashion, a man of taste, and a man of letters; though, in the first of these characters, he entertained or affected a contempt for the last, not uncommon in dilettante authors and dandy artists, who belong to the beau monde or are otherwise socially of high place, teste Congreve, and even Byron, that "rhyming peer." Walpole, as we have seen, had been an Eton friend of Gray and had traveled—and quarreled—with him upon the Continent. Returning home, he got a seat in Parliament, the entrée at court, and various lucrative sinecures through his father's influence. He was an assiduous courtier, a keen and spiteful observer, a busy gossip and retailer of social tattle. His feminine turn of mind made him a capital letter-writer; and his correspondence, particularly with Sir Horace Mann, English ambassador at Florence, is a running history of backstairs diplomacy, court intrigue, subterranean politics, and fashionable scandal during the reigns of the second and third Georges. He also figures as an historian of an amateurish sort, by virtue of his "Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors," "Anecdotes of Painting," and "Historic Doubts on Richard III." Our present concern with him, however, lies quite outside of these.

It was about 1750 that Walpole, who had bought a villa at Strawberry Hill, on the Thames near Windsor, which had formerly belonged to Mrs. Chenevix, the fashionable London toy-woman, began to turn his house into a miniature Gothic castle, in which he is said to have "outlived three sets of his own battlements." These architectural experiments went on for some twenty years. They excited great interest and attracted many visitors, and Walpole may be regarded as having given a real impetus to the revival of pointed architecture. He spoke of Strawberry Hill as a castle, but it was, in fact, an odd blend of ecclesiastical and castellated Gothic applied to domestic uses. He had a cloister, a chapel, a round tower, a gallery, a "refectory," a stair-turret with Gothic balustrade, stained windows, mural scutcheons, and Gothic paper-hangings. Walpole's mock-gothic became something of a laughing-stock, after the true principles of medieval architecture were better understood. Since the time when Inigo Jones, court architect to James I., came back from Italy, where he had studied the works of Palladio; and especially since the time when his successor, Sir Christopher Wren, had rebuilt St. Paul's in the Italian Renaissance style, after the great fire of London in 1664, Gothic had fallen more and more into disuse. "If in the history of British art," says Eastlake, "there is one period more distinguished than another for the neglect of Gothic, it was certainly the middle of the eighteenth century." But architecture had this advantage over other arts, it had left memorials more obvious and imposing. Medieval literature was known only to the curious, to collectors of manuscript romances and black-letter ballads. The study of medieval arts like tempera painting, illuminating, glass-staining, wood-carving, tapestry embroidery; of the science of blazonry, of the details of ancient armor and costumes, was the pursuit of specialists. But Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, Salisbury Cathedral, and York Minster, ruins such as Melrose and Fountain Abbeys, Crichton Castle, and a hundred others were impressive witnesses for the civilization that had built them and must, sooner or later, demand respectful attention. Hence it is not strange that the Gothic revival went hand in hand with the romantic movement in literature, if indeed it did not give it its original impulse.

"It is impossible," says Eastlake,[6] speaking of Walpole, "to peruse either the letters or the romances of this remarkable man, without being struck by the unmistakable evidence which they contain of his medieval predilections. His 'Castle of Otranto' was perhaps the first modern work of fiction which depended for its interest on the incidents of a chivalrous age, and it thus became the prototype of that class of novel which was afterward imitated by Mrs. Radcliffe and perfected by Sir Walter Scott. The feudal tyrant, the venerable ecclesiastic, the forlorn but virtuous damsel, the castle itself with its moats and drawbridge, its gloomy dungeons and solemn corridors, are all derived from a mine of interest which has since been worked more efficiently and to better profit. But to Walpole must be awarded the credit of its discovery and first employment."

Walpole's complete works[7] contain elaborate illustrations and ground plans of Strawberry Hill. Eastlake give a somewhat technical account of its constructive features, its gables, buttresses, finials, lath and plaster parapets, wooden pinnacles and, what its proprietor himself describes as his "lean windows fattened with rich saints." From this I extract only the description of the interior, which was "just what one might expect from a man who possessed a vague admiration for Gothic without the knowledge necessary for a proper adaptation of its features. Ceilings, screens, niches, etc., are all copied, or rather parodied, from existing examples, but with utter disregard for the original purpose of the design. To Lord Orford, Gothic was Gothic, and that sufficed. He would have turned an altar-slab into a hall-table, or made a cupboard of a piscine, with the greatest complacency, if it only served his purpose. Thus we find that in the north bed-chamber, when he wanted a model for his chimney-piece, he thought he could not do better than adopt the form of Bishop Dudley's tomb in Westminster Abbey. He found a pattern for the piers of his garden gate in the choir of Ely Cathedral." The ceiling of the gallery borrowed a design from Henry VII.'s Chapel; the entrance to the same apartment from the north door of St. Alban's; and one side of the room from Archbishop Bourchier's tomb at Canterbury. Eastlake's conclusion is that Walpole's Gothic, "though far from reflecting the beauties of a former age, or anticipating those which were destined to proceed from a re-development of the style, still holds a position in the history of English art which commands our respect, for it served to sustain a cause which had otherwise been well-nigh forsaken."

James Fergusson, in his "History of the Modern Styles of Architecture," says of Walpole's structures: "We now know that these are very indifferent specimens of the true Gothic art, and are at a loss to understand how either their author or his contemporaries could ever fancy that these very queer carvings were actual reproductions of the details of York Minster, or other equally celebrated buildings, from which they were supposed to have been copied." Fergusson adds that the fashion set by Walpole soon found many followers both in church and house architecture, "and it is surprising what a number of castles were built which had nothing castellated about them except a nicked parapet and an occasional window in the form of a cross." That school of bastard Gothic illustrated by the buildings of Batty Langley, and other early restorers of the style, bears an analogy with the imitations of old English poetry in the last century. There was the same prematurity in both, the same defective knowledge, crudity, uncertainty, incorrectness, feebleness of invention, mixture of ancient and modern manners. It was not until the time of Pugin[8] that the details of the medieval building art were well enough understood to enable the architect to work in the spirit of that art, yet not as a servile copyist, but with freedom and originality. Meanwhile, one service that Walpole and his followers did, by reviving public interest in Gothic, was to arrest the process of dilapidation and save the crumbling remains of many a half-ruinous abbey, castle, or baronial hall. Thus, "when about a hundred years since, Rhyddlan Castle, in North Wales, fell into the possession of Dr. Shipley, Dean of St. Asaph, the massive walls had been prescriptively used as stone quarries, to which any neighboring occupier who wanted building materials might resort; and they are honey-combed all round as high as a pick-ax could reach."[9] "Walpole," writes Leslie Stephen, "is almost the first modern Englishman who found out that our old cathedrals were really beautiful. He discovered that a most charming toy might be made of medievalism. Strawberry Hill, with all its gimcracks, its pasteboard battlements and stained-paper carvings, was the lineal ancestor of the new law-courts. The restorers of churches, the manufacturers of stained glass, the modern decorators and architects of all varieties, the Ritualists and the High Church party, should think of him with kindness. . . That he was quite conscious of the necessity for more serious study, appears in his letters; in one of which, e.g., he proposes a systematic history of Gothic architecture such as has since been often executed."[10] Mr. Stephen adds that Walpole's friend Gray "shared his Gothic tastes, with greatly superior knowledge."

Walpole did not arrive at his Gothicism by the gate of literature. It was merely a specialized development of his tastes as a virtuoso and collector. The museum of curiosities which he got together at Strawberry Hill included not only suits of armor, stained glass, and illuminated missals, but a miscellaneous treasure of china ware, enamels, faïence, bronzes, paintings, engravings, books, coins, bric-a-brac, and memorabilia such as Cardinal Wolsey's hat, Queen Elizabeth's glove, and the spur that William III. wore at the Battle of the Boyne. Walpole's romanticism was a thin veneering; underneath it, he was a man of the eighteenth century. His opinions on all subjects were, if not inconsistent, at any rate notoriously whimsical and ill-assorted. Thus in spite of his admiration for Gray and his—temporary—interest in Ossian, Chatterton, and Percy's ballads, he ridiculed Mallet's and Gray's Runic experiments, spoke contemptuously of Spenser, Thomson, and Akenside, compared Dante to "a Methodist parson in bedlam," and pronounced "A Midsummer Night's Dream" "forty times more nonsensical than the worst translation of any Italian opera-books."[11] He said that poetry died with Pope, whose measure and manner he employed in his own verses. It has been observed that, in all his correspondence, he makes but a single mention of Froissart's "Chronicle," and that a sneer at Lady Pomfret for translating it.

Accordingly we find, on turning to "The Castle of Otranto," that, just as Walpole's Gothicism was an accidental "sport" from his general virtuosity; so his romanticism was a casual outgrowth of his architectural amusements. Strawberry Hill begat "The Castle of Otranto," whose title is fitly chosen, since it is the castle itself that is the hero of the book. The human characters are naught. "Shall I even confess to you," he writes to the Rev. William Cole (March 9, 1765), "what was the origin of this romance? I waked one morning in the beginning of last June from a dream, of which all I could recover was, that I had thought myself in an ancient castle (a very natural dream for a head filled, like mine, with Gothic story), and that, on the uppermost banister of a great staircase, I saw a gigantic hand in armor. In the evening I sat down and began to write, without knowing in the least what I intended to say or relate. The work grew on my hands. . . In short, I was so engrossed with my tale, which I completed in less than two months, that one evening I wrote from the time I had drunk my tea, about six o'clock, till half an hour after one in the morning."

"The Castle of Otranto, A Gothic Story," was published in 1765.[12] According to the title page, it was translated from the original Italian of Onuphrio Muralto—a sort of half-pun on the author's surname—by W. Marshall, Gent. This mystification was kept up in the preface, which pretended that the book had been printed at Naples in black-letter in 1529, and was found in the library of an old Catholic family in the north of England. In the preface to his second edition Walpole described the work as "an attempt to blend the two kinds of romance, the ancient and the modern": declared that, in introducing humorous dialogues among the servants of the castle, he had taken nature and Shakspere for his models; and fell foul of Voltaire for censuring the mixture of buffoonery and solemnity in Shakspere's tragedies. Walpole's claim to having created a new species of romance has been generally allowed. "His initiative in literature," says Mr. Stephen, "has been as fruitful as his initiative in art. 'The Castle of Otranto,' and the 'Mysterious Mother,' were the progenitors of Mrs. Radcliffe's romances, and probably had a strong influence upon the author of 'Ivanhoe.' Frowning castles and gloomy monasteries, knights in armor and ladies in distress, and monks, and nuns, and hermits; all the scenery and characters that have peopled the imagination of the romantic school, may be said to have had their origin on the night when Walpole lay down to sleep, his head crammed full of Wardour Street curiosities, and dreamed that he saw a gigantic hand in armor resting on the banisters of his staircase."

It is impossible at this day to take "The Castle of Otranto" seriously, and hard to explain the respect with which it was once mentioned by writers of authority. Warburton called it "a master-piece in the Fable, and a new species likewise. . . The scene is laid in Gothic chivalry; where a beautiful imagination, supported by strength of judgment, has enabled the reader to go beyond his subject and effect the full purpose of the ancient tragedy; i.e., to purge the passions by pity and terror, in coloring as great and harmonious as in any of the best dramatic writers." Byron called Walpole the author of the last tragedy[13] and the first romance in the language. Scott wrote of "The Castle of Otranto": "This romance has been justly considered, not only as the original and model of a peculiar species of composition attempted and successfully executed by a man of great genius, but as one of the standard works of our lighter literature." Gray in a letter to Walpole (December 30, 1764), acknowledging the receipt of his copy, says: "It makes some of us cry a little, and all in general afraid to go to bed o' nights." Walpole's masterpiece can no longer make anyone cry even a little; and instead of keeping us out of bed, it sends us there—or would, if it were a trifle longer. For the only thing that is tolerable about the book is its brevity, and a certain rapidity in the action. Macaulay, who confesses its absurdity and insipidity, says that no reader, probably, ever thought it dull. "The story, whatever its value may be, never flags for a single moment. There are no digressions, or unreasonable descriptions, or long speeches. Every sentence carries the action forward. The excitement is constantly renewed." Excitement is too strong a word to describe any emotion which "The Castle of Otranto" is now capable of arousing. But the same cleverness which makes Walpole's correspondence always readable saves his romance from the unpardonable sin—in literature—of tediousness. It does go along and may still be read without a too painful effort.

There is nothing very new in the plot, which has all the stock properties of romantic fiction, as common in the days of Sidney's "Arcadia" as in those of Sylvanus Cobb. Alfonso, the former lord of Otranto, had been poisoned in Palestine by his chamberlain Ricardo, who forged a will making himself Alfonso's heir. To make his peace with God, the usurper founded a church and two convents in honor of St. Nicholas, who "appeared to him in a dream and promised that Ricardo's posterity should reign in Otranto until the rightful owner should be grown too large to inhabit the castle." When the story opens, this prophecy is about to be fulfilled. The tyrant Manfred, grandson of the usurper, is on the point of celebrating the marriage of his only son, when the youth is crushed to death by a colossal helmet that drops, from nobody knows where, into the courtyard of the castle. Gigantic armor haunts the castle piecemeal: a monstrous gauntlet is laid upon the banister of the great staircase; a mailed foot appears in one apartment; a sword is brought into the courtyard on the shoulders of a hundred men. And finally the proprietor of these fragmentary apparitions, in "the form of Alfonso, dilated to an immense magnitude," throws down the walls of the castle, pronounces the words "Behold in Theodore the true heir of Alfonso," and with a clap of thunder ascends to heaven. Theodore is, of course, the young peasant, grandson of the crusader by a fair Sicilian secretly espoused en route for the Holy Land; and he is identified by the strawberry mark of old romance, in this instance the figure of a bloody arrow impressed upon his shoulder. There are other supernatural portents, such as a skeleton with a cowl and a hollow voice, a portrait which descends from its panel, and a statue that bleeds at the nose.

The novel feature in the "Castle of Otranto" was its Gothic setting; the "wind whistling through the battlements"; the secret trap-door, with iron ring, by which Isabella sought to make her escape. "An awful silence reigned throughout those subterraneous regions, except now and then some blasts of wind that shook the doors she had passed, and which, grating on the rusty hinges, were re-echoed through that long labyrinth of darkness. The wind extinguished her candle, but an imperfect ray of clouded moonshine gleamed through a cranny in the roof of the vault and fell directly on the spring of the trap-door." But Walpole's medievalism was very thin. He took some pains with the description of the feudal cavalcade entering the castle gate with the great sword, but the passage is incorrect and poor in detail compared with similar things in Scott. The book was not an historical romance, and the manners, sentiments, language, all were modern. Walpole knew little about the Middle Ages and was not in touch with their spirit. At bottom he was a trifler, a fribble; and his incurable superficiality, dilettantism, and want of seriousness, made all his real cleverness of no avail when applied to such a subject as "The Castle of Otranto."[14]

Walpole's tragedy, "The Mysterious Mother," has not even that degree of importance which secures his romance a niche in literary history. The subject was too unnatural to admit of stage presentation. Incest, when treated in the manner of Sophocles (Walpole justified himself by the example of "Oedipus"), or even of Ford, or of Shelley, may possibly claim a place among the themes which art is not quite forbidden to touch; but when handled in the prurient and crudely melodramatic fashion of this particular artist, it is merely offensive. "The Mysterious Mother," indeed, is even more absurd than horrible. Gothic machinery is present, but it is of the slightest. The scene of the action is a castle at Narbonne and the châtelaine is the heroine of the play. The other characters are knights, friars, orphaned damsels, and feudal retainers; there is mention of cloisters, drawbridges, the Vaudois heretics, and the assassination of Henri III. and Henri IV.; and the author's Whig and Protestant leanings are oddly evidenced in his exposure of priestly intrigues.

"The Castle of Otranto" was not long in finding imitators. One of the first of these was Clara Reeve's "Champion of Virtue" (1777), styled on its title-page "A Gothic Story," and reprinted the following year as "The Old English Baron." Under this latter title it has since gone through thirteen editions, the latest of which, in 1883, gave a portrait of the author. Miss Reeve had previously published (1772) "The Phoenix," a translation of "Argenis," "a romance written in Latin about the beginning of the seventeenth century, by John Barclay, a Scotchman, and supposed to contain an allegorical account of the civil wars of France during the reign of Henry III."[15] "Pray," inquires the author of "The Champion of Virtue" in her address to the reader, "did you ever read a book called, 'The Castle of Otranto'? If you have, you will willingly enter with me into a review of it. But perhaps you have not read it? However, you have heard that it is an attempt to blend together the most attractive and interesting circumstances of the ancient romance and modern novel. . . The conduct of the story is artful and judicious; and the characters are admirably drawn and supported; the diction polished and elegant; yet with all these brilliant advantages, it palls upon the mind. . . The reason is obvious; the machinery is so violent that it destroys the effect it is intended to excite. Had the story been kept within the utmost verge of probability, the effect had been preserved. . . For instance, we can conceive and allow of the appearance of a ghost; we can even dispense with an enchanted sword and helmet, but then they must keep within certain limits of credibility. A sword so large as to require a hundred men to lift it, a helmet that by its own weight forces a passage through a court-yard into an arched vault . . . when your expectation is wound up to the highest pitch, these circumstances take it down with a witness, destroy the work of imagination, and, instead of attention, excite laughter. . . In the course of my observations upon this singular book, it seemed to me that it was possible to compose a work upon the same plan, wherein these defects might be avoided."

Accordingly Miss Reeve undertook to admit only a rather mild dose of the marvelous in her romance. Like Walpole she professed to be simply the editor of the story, which she said that she had transcribed or translated from a manuscript in the Old English language, a now somewhat threadbare device. The period was the fifteenth century, in the reign of Henry VI., and the scene England. But, in spite of the implication of its sub-title, the fiction is much less "Gothic" than its model, and its modernness of sentiment and manners is hardly covered with even the faintest wash of mediaevalism. As in Walpole's book, there are a murder and a usurpation, a rightful heir defrauded of his inheritance and reared as a peasant. There are a haunted chamber, unearthly midnight groans, a ghost in armor, and a secret closet with its skeleton. The tale is infinitely tiresome, and is full of that edifying morality, fine sentiment and stilted dialogue—that "old perfumed, powdered D'Arblay conversation," as Thackeray called it—which abound in "Evelina," "Thaddeus of Warsaw," and almost all the fiction of the last quarter of the last century. Still it was a little unkind in Walpole to pronounce his disciple's performance tedious and insipid, as he did.

This same lady published, in 1785, a work in two volumes entitled "The Progress of Romance," a sort of symposium on the history of fiction in a series of evening conversations. Her purpose was to claim for the prose romance an honorable place in literature; a place beside the verse epic. She discusses the definitions of romance given in the current dictionaries, such as Ainsworth's and Littleton's Narratio ficta—Scriptum eroticum—Splendida fabula; and Johnson's "A military fable of the Middle Ages—A tale of wild adventures of war and love." She herself defines it as "An heroic fable," or "An epic in prose." She affirms that Homer is the father of romance and thinks it astonishing that men of sense "should despise and ridicule romances, as the most contemptible of all kinds of writing, and yet expatiate in raptures on the beauties of the fables of the old classic poets—on stories far more wild and extravagant and infinitely more incredible." After reviewing the Greek romances, like Heliodorus' "Theagenes and Chariclea," she passes on to the chivalry tales of the Middle Ages, which, she maintains, "were by no means so contemptible as they have been represented by later writers." Our poetry, she thinks, owes more than is imagined to the spirit of romance. "Chaucer and all our old writers abound with it. Spenser owes perhaps his immortality to it; it is the Gothic imagery that gives the principal graces to his work. . . Spenser has made more poets than any other writer of our country." Milton, too, had a hankering after the romances; and Cervantes, though he laughed Spain's chivalry away, loved the thing he laughed at and preferred his serious romance "Persiles and Sigismonda" to all his other works.

She gives a list, with conjectural dates, of many medieval romances in French and English, verse and prose; but the greater part of the book is occupied with contemporary fiction, the novels of Richardson, Fielding, Smollett, Crébillon, Marivaux, Rousseau, etc. She commends Thomas Leland's historical romance "Longsword, Earl of Salisbury" (1762), as "a romance in reality, and not a novel:—a story like those of the Middle Ages, composed of chivalry, love, and religion." To her second volume she appended the "History of Charoba, Queen of Egypt," englished from the French of Vattier, professor of Arabic to Louis XIV., who had translated it from a history of ancient Egypt written in Arabic. This was the source of Landor's poem, "Gebir." When Landor was in Wales in 1797, Rose Aylmer—

"Rose Aylmer, whom these wakeful eyes,
May weep but never see"—

lent him a copy of Miss Reeve's "Progress of Romance," borrowed from a circulating library at Swansea. And so the poor forgotten thing retains a vicarious immortality, as the prompter of some of the noblest passages in modern English blank verse and as associated with one of the tenderest passages in Landor's life.

Miss Reeve quotes frequently from Percy's "Essay on the Ancient Minstrels," mentions Ossian and Chatterton and refers to Hurd, Warton, and other authorities. "It was not till I had completed my design," she writes in her preface, "that I read either Dr. Beattie's 'Dissertation on Fable and Romance' or Mr. Warton's 'History of English Poetry.'" The former of these was an essay of somewhat more than a hundred pages by the author of "The Minstrel." It is of no great importance and follows pretty closely the lines of Hurd's "Letters on Chivalry and Romance," to which Beattie repeatedly refers in his footnotes. The author pursues the beaten track in inquiries of the kind: discusses the character of the Gothic tribes, the nature of the feudal system, and the institutions of chivalry and knight-errantry. Romance, it seems, was "one of the consequences of chivalry. The first writers in this way exhibited a species of fable different from all that had hitherto appeared. They undertook to describe the adventures of those heroes who professed knight-errantry. The world was then ignorant and credulous and passionately fond of wonderful adventures and deeds of valor. They believed in giants, dwarfs, dragons, enchanted castles, and every imaginable species of necromancy. These form the materials of the old romance. The knight-errant was described as courteous, religious, valiant, adventurous, and temperate. Some enchanters befriended and others opposed him. To do his mistress honor, and to prove himself worthy of her, he was made to encounter the warrior, hew down the giant, cut the dragon in pieces, break the spell of the necromancer, demolish the enchanted castle, fly through the air on wooden or winged horses, or, with some magician for his guide, to descend unhurt through the opening earth and traverse the caves in the bottom of the ocean. He detected and punished the false knight, overthrew or converted the infidel, restored the exiled monarch to his dominions and the captive damsel to her parents; he fought at the tournament, feasted in the hall, and bore a part in the warlike processions."

There is nothing very startling in these conclusions. Scholars like Percy, Tyrwhitt, and Ritson, who, as collectors and editors, rescued the fragments of ancient ministrelsy and gave the public access to concrete specimens of mediaeval poetry, performed a more useful service than mild clerical essayists, such as Beattie and Hurd, who amused their leisure with general speculations about the origin of romance and whether it came in the first instance from the troubadours or the Saracens or the Norsemen. One more passage, however, may be transcribed from Beattie's "Dissertation," because it seems clearly a suggestion from "The Castle of Otranto." "The castles of the greater barons, reared in a rude but grand style of architecture, full of dark and winding passages, of secret apartments, of long uninhabited galleries, and of chambers supposed to be haunted with spirits, and undermined by subterraneous labyrinths as places of retreat in extreme danger; the howling of winds through the crevices of old walls and other dreary vacuities; the grating of heavy doors on rusty hinges of iron; the shrieking of bats and the screaming of owls and other creatures that resort to desolate or half-inhabited buildings; these and the like circumstances in the domestic life of the people I speak of, would multiply their superstitions and increase their credulity; and among warriors who set all danger at defiance, would encourage a passion for wild adventure and difficult enterprise."

One of the books reviewed by Miss Reeve is worth mentioning, not for its intrinsic importance, but for its early date. "Longsword, Earl of Salisbury, An Historical Romance," in two volumes, and published two years before "The Castle of Otranto," is probably the first fiction of the kind in English literature. Its author was Thomas Leland, an Irish historian and doctor of divinity.[16] "The outlines of the following story," begins the advertisement, "and some of the incidents and more minute circumstances, are to be found in some of the ancient English histories." The period of the action is the reign of Henry III. The king is introduced in person, and when we hear him swearing "by my Halidome," we rub our eyes and ask, "Can this be Scott?" But we are soon disabused, for the romance, in spite of the words of the advertisement, is very little historical, and the fashion of it is thinly wordy and sentimental. The hero is the son of Henry II. and Fair Rosamond, but his speech is Grandisonian. The adventures are of the usual kind: the dramatis personae include gallant knights who go a-tilting with their ladies' gloves upon their casques, usurpers, villains, pirates, a wicked monk who tries to poison the hero, an oppressed countess, a distressed damsel disguised as a page, a hermit who has a cave in a mountain side, etc. The Gothic properties are few; though the frontispiece to the first volume represents a cowled monk raising from the ground the figure of a swooning knight in complete armor, in front of an abbey church with an image of the Virgin and Child sculptured in a niche above the door; and the building is thus described in the text: "Its windows crowded with the foliage of their ornaments, and dimmed by the hand of the painter; its numerous spires towering above the roof, and the Christian ensign on its front, declared it a residence of devotion and charity." An episode in the story narrates the death of a father by the hand of his son in the Barons' War of Henry III. But no farther advantage is taken of the historic background afforded by this civil conflict, nor is Simon de Montfort so much as named in the whole course of the book.

Clara Reeve was the daughter of a clergyman. She lived and died at Ipswich (1725-1803). Walter Scott contributed a memoir of her to "Ballantyne's Novelists' Library," in which he defended Walpole's frank use of the supernatural against her criticisms, quoted above, and gave the preference to Walpole's method.[17] She acknowledged that her romance was a "literary descendant of 'Otranto';" but the author of the latter, evidently nettled by her strictures, described "The Old English Baron," as "Otranto reduced to reason and probability," and declared that any murder trial at the Old Bailey would have made a more interesting story. Such as it is, it bridges the interval between its model and the novels of Mrs. Radcliffe, Lewis' "Monk" (1795), and Maturin's "Fatal Revenge, or the Family of Montorio" (1807).[18]

Anne Radcliffe—born Ward in 1764, the year of "Otranto"—was the wife of an editor, who was necessarily absent from home much of the time until late at night. A large part of her writing was done to amuse her loneliness in the still hours of evening; and the wildness of her imagination, and the romantic love of night and solitude which pervades her books, are sometimes accounted for in this way. In 1809 it was currently reported and believed that Mrs. Radcliffe was dead. Another form of the rumor was that she had been insane by continually poring over visions of horror and mystery. Neither report was true; she lived till 1823, in full possession of her faculties, although she published nothing after 1797. The circulation of such stories shows how retired, and even obscure, a life this very popular writer contrived to lead.

It would be tedious to give here an analysis of these once famous fictions seriatim.[19] They were very long, very much alike, and very much overloaded with sentiment and description. The plots were complicated and abounded in the wildest improbabilities and in those incidents which were once the commonplaces of romantic fiction and which realism has now turned out of doors: concealments, assassinations, duels, disguises, kidnappings, escapes, elopements, intrigues, forged documents, discoveries of old crimes, and identifications of lost heirs. The characters, too, were of the conventional kind. There were dark-browed, crime-stained villains—forerunners, perhaps of Manfred and Lara, for the critics think that Mrs. Radcliffe's stories were not without important influence on Byron.[20] There were high-born, penitent dames who retired to convents in expiation of sins which are not explained until the general raveling of clews in the final chapter. There were bravoes, banditti, feudal tyrants, monks, inquisitors, soubrettes, and simple domestics a la Bianca, in Walpole's romance. The lover was of the type adored by our great-grandmothers, handsome, melancholy, passionate, respectful but desperate, a user of most choice English; with large black eyes, smooth white forehead, and jetty curls, now sunk, Mr. Perry says, to the covers of prune boxes. The heroine, too, was sensitive and melancholy. When alone upon the seashore or in the mountains, at sunset or twilight, or under the midnight moon, or when the wind is blowing, she overflows into stanza or sonnet, "To Autumn," "To Sunset," "To the Bat," "To the Nightingale," "To the Winds," "To Melancholy," "Song of the Evening Hour." We have heard this pensive music drawing near in the strains of the Miltonic school, but in Mrs. Radcliffe the romantic gloom is profound and all-pervading. In what pastures she had fed is manifest from the verse captions that head her chapters, taken mainly from Blair, Thomson, Warton, Gray, Collins, Beattie, Mason, and Walpole's "Mysterious Mother." Here are a few stanzas from her ode "To Melancholy":

"Spirit of love and sorrow, hail!
Thy solemn voice from far I hear,
Mingling with evening's dying gale:
Hail, with thy sadly pleasing tear!

"O at this still, this lonely hour—
Thine own sweet hour of closing day—
Awake thy lute, whose charmful power
Shall call up fancy to obey:

"To paint the wild, romantic dream
That meets the poet's closing eye,
As on the bank of shadowy stream
He breathes to her the fervid sigh.

"O lonely spirit, let thy song
Lead me through all thy sacred haunt,
The minster's moonlight aisles along
Where specters raise the midnight chant."

In Mrs. Radcliffe's romances we find a tone that is absent from Walpole's: romanticism plus sentimentalism. This last element had begun to infuse itself into general literature about the middle of the century, as a protest and reaction against the emotional coldness of the classical age. It announced itself in Richardson, Rousseau, and the youthful Goethe; in the comédie larmoyante, both French and English; found its cleverest expression in Sterne, and then, becoming a universal vogue, deluged fiction with productions like Mackenzie's "Man of Feeling," Miss Burney's "Evelina," and the novels of Jane Porter and Mrs. Opie. Thackeray said that there was more crying in "Thaddeus of Warsaw" than in any novel he ever remembered to have read.[21] Emily, in the "Mysteries of Udolpho" cannot see the moon, or hear a guitar or an organ or the murmur of the pines, without weeping. Every page is bedewed with the tear of sensibility; the whole volume is damp with it, and ever and anon a chorus of sobs goes up from the entire company. Mrs. Radcliffe's heroines are all descendents of Pamela and Clarissa Harlowe, but under more romantic circumstances. They are beset with a thousand difficulties; carried off by masked ruffians, immured in convents, held captive in robber castles, encompassed with horrors natural and supernatural, persecuted, threatened with murder and with rape. But though perpetually sighing, blushing, trembling, weeping, fainting, they have at bottom a kind of toughness that endures through all. They rebuke the wicked in stately language, full of noble sentiments and moral truths. They preserve the most delicate feelings of propriety in situations the most discouraging. Emily, imprisoned in the gloomy castle of Udolpho, in the power of ruffians whose brawls and orgies fill night and day with horror, in hourly fear for her virtue and her life, sends for the lord of the castle,—whom she believes to have murdered her aunt,—and reminds him that, as her protectress is now dead, it would not be proper for her to stay any longer under his roof thus unchaperoned, and will he please, therefore, send her home?

Mrs. Radcliffe's fictions are romantic, but not usually mediaeval in subject. In the "Mysteries of Udolpho," the period of the action is the end of the sixteenth century; in the "Romance of the Forest," 1658; in "The Italian," about 1760. But her machinery is prevailingly Gothic and the real hero of the story is commonly, as in Walpole, some haunted building. In the "Mysteries of Udolpho" it is a castle in the Apennines; in the "Romance of the Forest," a deserted abbey in the depth of the woods; in "The Italian," the cloister of the Black Penitents. The moldering battlements, the worm-eaten tapestries, the turret staircases, secret chambers, underground passages, long, dark corridors where the wind howls dismally, and distant doors which slam at midnight all derive from "Otranto." So do the supernatural fears which haunt these abodes of desolation; the strains of mysterious music, the apparitions which glide through the shadowy apartments, the hollow voices that warn the tyrant to beware. But her method here is quite different from Walpole's; she tacks a natural explanation to every unearthly sight or sound. The hollow voices turn out to be ventriloquism; the figure of a putrefying corpse which Emily sees behind the black curtain in the ghost chamber at Udolpho is only a wax figure, contrived as a memento mori for a former penitent. After the reader has once learned this trick he refuses to be imposed upon again, and, whenever he encounters a spirit, feels sure that a future chapter will embody it back into flesh and blood.

There is plenty of testimony to the popularity of these romances. Thackeray says that a lady of his acquaintance, an inveterate novel reader, names Valancourt as one of the favorite heroes of her youth. "'Valancourt? And who was he?' cry the young people. Valancourt, my dears, was the hero of one of the most famous romances which ever was published in this country. The beauty and elegance of Valancourt made your young grandmamma's' gentle hearts to beat with respectful sympathy. He and his glory have passed away. . . Enquire at Mudie's or the London Library, who asks for the 'Mysteries of Udolpho' now."[22] Hazlitt said that he owed to Mrs. Radcliffe his love of moonlight nights, autumn leaves and decaying ruins. It was, indeed, in the melodramatic manipulation of landscape that this artist was most original. "The scenes that savage Rosa dashed" seemed to have been her model, and critics who were fond of analogy called her the Salvator Rosa of fiction. It is here that her influence on Byron and Chateaubriand is most apparent.[23] Mrs. Radcliffe's scenery is not quite to our modern taste, any more than are Salvator's paintings. Her Venice by moonlight, her mountain gorges with their black pines and foaming torrents, are not precisely the Venice and the Alps of Ruskin; rather of the operatic stage. Still they are impressive in their way, and in this department she possessed genuine poetic feels and a real mastery of the art of painting in distemper. Witness the picture of the castle of Udolpho, on Emily's first sight of it, and the hardly less striking description, in the "Romance of the Forest," of the ruined abbey in which the La Motte family take refuge: "He approached and perceived the Gothic remains of an abbey: it stood on a kind of rude lawn, overshadowed by high and spreading trees, which seemed coeval with the building, and diffused a romantic gloom around. The greater part of the pile appeared to be sinking into ruins, and that which had withstood the ravages of time showed the remaining features of the fabric more awful in decay. The lofty battlements, thickly enwreathed with ivy, were half demolished and become the residence of birds of prey. Huge fragments of the eastern tower, which was almost demolished, lay scattered amid the high grass, that waved slowly in the breeze. 'The thistle shook its lonely head: the moss whistled to the wind.'[24] A Gothic gate, richly ornamented with fretwork, which opened into the main body of the edifice, but which was now obstructed with brushwood, remained entire. Above the vast and magnificent portal of this gate arose a window of the same order, whose pointed arches still exhibited fragments of stained glass, once the pride of monkish devotion. La Motte, thinking it possible it might yet shelter some human being, advanced to the gate and lifted a massy knocker. The hollow sounds rung through the emptiness of the place. After waiting a few minutes, he forced back the gate, which was heavy with iron-work, and creaked harshly on its hinges. . . From this chapel he passed into the nave of the great church, of which one window, more perfect than the rest, opened upon a long vista of the forest, through which was seen the rich coloring of evening, melting by imperceptible gradations into the solemn gray of upper air."

Mrs. Radcliffe never was in Italy or Switzerland or the south of France; she divined the scenery of her romances from pictures and descriptions at second hand. But she accompanied her husband in excursions to the Lakes and other parts of England, and in 1794 made the tour of the Rhine.[25] The passages in her diary, recording these travels, are much superior in the truthfulness and local color of their nature sketching to anything in her novels. Mrs. Radcliffe is furthermore to be credited with a certain skill in producing terror, by the use of that favorite weapon in the armory of the romanticists, mystery. If she did not invent a new shudder, as Hugo said of Baudelaire, she gave at least a new turn to the old-fashioned ghost story. She creates in her readers a feeling of impending danger, suspense, foreboding. There is a sense of unearthly presences in these vast, empty rooms; the silence itself is ominous; echoes sound like footfalls, ghostly shadows lurk in dark corners, whispers come from behind the arras, as it stirs in the gusts of wind.[26] The heroine is afraid to look in the glass lest she should see another face there beside her own; her lamp expires and leaves her in the dark just as she is coming to the critical point in the manuscript which she has found in an old chest, etc., etc., But the tale loses its impressiveness as soon as it strays beyond the shade of the battlements. The Gothic castle or priory is still, as in Walpole, the nucleus of the story.

Two of these romances, the earliest and the latest, though they are the weakest of the series, have a special interest for us as affording points of comparison with the Waverly novels. "The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne" is the narrative of a feud between two Highland clans, and its scene is the northeastern coast of Scotland, "in the most romantic part of the Highlands," where the castle of Athlin—like Uhland's "Schloss am Meer"—stood "on the summit of a rock whose base was in the sea." This was a fine place for storms. "The winds burst in sudden squalls over the deep and dashed the foaming waves against the rocks with inconceivable fury. The spray, notwithstanding the high situation of the castle, flew up with violence against the windows. . . The moon shone faintly by intervals, through broken clouds, upon the waters, illumining the white foam which burst around. . . The surges broke on the distant shores in deep resounding murmurs, and the solemn pauses between the stormy gusts filled the mind with enthusiastic awe." Perhaps the description slightly reminds of the picture, in "Marmion," of Tantallon Castle, the hold of the Red Douglases on the German Ocean, a little north of Berwick, whose frowning towers have recently done duty again in Stevenson's "David Balfour." The period of the action is but vaguely indicated; but, as the weapons used in the attack on the castle are bows and arrows, we may regard the book as mediaeval in intention. Scott says that the scene of the romance was Scotland in the dark ages, and complains that the author evidently knew nothing of Scottish life or scenery. This is true; her castles might have stood anywhere. There is no mention of the pipes or the plaid. Her rival chiefs are not Gaelic caterans, but just plain feudal lords. Her baron of Dunbayne is like any other baron; or rather, he is unlike any baron that ever was on sea or land or anywhere else except in the pages of a Gothic romance.

"Gaston de Blondville" was begun in 1802 and published posthumously in 1826, edited by Sergeant Talfourd. Its inspiring cause was a visit which the author made in the autumn of 1802 to Warwick Castle and the ruins of Kenilworth. The introduction has the usual fiction of an old manuscript found in an oaken chest dug up from the foundation of a chapel of Black Canons at Kenilworth: a manuscript richly illuminated with designs at the head of each chapter—which are all duly described—and containing a "trew chronique of what passed at Killingworth, in Ardenn, when our Soveren Lord the Kynge kept ther his Fest of Seynt Michel: with ye marveylous accident that there befell at the solempnissacion of the marriage of Gaston de Blondeville. With divers things curious to be known thereunto purtayning. With an account of the grete Turney there held in the year MCCLVI. Changed out of the Norman tongue by Grymbald, Monk of Senct Marie Priori in Killingworth." Chatterton's forgeries had by this time familiarized the public with imitations of early English. The finder of this manuscript pretends to publish a modernized version of it, while endeavoring "to preserve somewhat of the air of the old style." This he does by a poor reproduction, not of thirteenth-century, but of sixteenth-century English, consisting chiefly in inversions of phrase and the occasional use of a certes or naithless. Two words in particular seem to have struck Mrs. Radcliffe as most excellent archaisms: ychon and his-self, which she introduces at every turn.

"Gaston de Blondville," then, is a tale of the time of Henry III. The king himself is a leading figure and so is Prince Edward. Other historical personages are brought in, such as Simon de Montfort and Marie de France, but little use is made of them. The book is not indeed, in any sense, an historical novel like Scott's "Kenilworth," the scene of which is the same, and which was published in 1821, five years before Mrs. Radcliffe's. The story is entirely fictitious. What differences it from her other romances is the conscious attempt to portray feudal manners. There are elaborate descriptions of costumes, upholstery, architecture, heraldic bearings, ancient military array, a tournament, a royal hunt, a feast in the great hall at Kenilworth, a visit of state to Warwick Castle, and the session of a baronial court. The ceremony of the "voide," when the king took his spiced cup, is rehearsed with a painful accumulation of particulars. For all this she consulted Leland's "Collectanea," Warton's "History of English Poetry," the "Household Book of Edward IV.," Pegge's "Dissertation on the Obsolete Office of Esquire of the King's Body," the publications of the Society of Antiquaries and similar authorities, with results that are infinitely tedious. Walter Scott's archaeology is not always correct, nor his learning always lightly borne; but, upon the whole, he had the art to make his cumbrous materials contributory to his story rather than obstructive of it.

In these two novels we meet again all the familiar apparatus of secret trap-doors, sliding panels, spiral staircases in the thickness of the walls, subterranean vaults conducting to a neighboring priory or a cavern in the forest, ranges of deserted apartments where the moon looks in through mullioned casements, ruinous turrets around which the night winds moan and howl. Here, too, once more are the wicked uncle who seizes upon the estates of his deceased brother's wife, and keeps her and her daughter shut up in his dungeon for the somewhat long period of eighteen years; the heroine who touches her lute and sings in pensive mood, till the notes steal to the ear of the young earl imprisoned in the adjacent tower; the maiden who is carried off on horseback by bandits, till her shrieks bring ready aid; the peasant lad who turns out to be the baron's heir. "His surprise was great when the baroness, reviving, fixed her eyes mournfully upon him and asked him to uncover his arm." Alas! the surprise is not shared by the reader, when "'I have indeed found my long-lost child: that strawberry,'"[27] etc., etc. "Gaston de Blondville" has a ghost—not explained away in the end according to Mrs. Radcliffe's custom. It is the spirit of Reginald de Folville, Knight Hospitaller of St. John, murdered in the Forest of Arden by Gaston de Blondville and the prior of St. Mary's. He is a most robust apparition, and is by no means content with revisiting the glimpses of the moon, but goes in and out at all hours of the day, and so often as to become somewhat of a bore. He ultimately destroys both first and second murderer: one in his cell, the other in open tournament, where his exploits as a mysterious knight in black armor may have given Scott a hint for his black knight at the lists of Ashby-de-la-Zouche in "Ivanhoe" (1819). His final appearance is in the chamber of the king, with whom he holds quite a long conversation. "The worm is my sister," he says: "the mist of death is on me. My bed is in darkness. The prisoner is innocent. The prior of St. Mary's is gone to his account. Be warned." It is not explained why Mrs. Radcliffe refrained from publishing this last romance of hers. Perhaps she recognized that it was belated and that the time for that sort of thing had gone by. By 1802 Lewis' "Monk" was in print, as well as several translations from German romances; Scott's early ballads were out, and Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner." That very year saw the publication of the "Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border." By 1826 the Waverley novels had made all previous fiction of the Gothic type hopelessly obsolete. In 1834 two volumes of her poems were given to the world, including a verse romance in eight cantos, "St. Alban's Abbey," and the verses scattered through her novels. By this time Scott and Coleridge were dead; Byron, Shelley, and Keats had been dead for years, and Mrs. Radcliffe's poesies fell upon the unheeding ears of a new generation. A sneer in "Waverley" (1814) at the "Mysteries of Udolpho" had hurt her feelings;[28] but Scott made amends in the handsome things which he said of her in his "Lives of the Novelists." It is interesting to note that when the "Mysteries" was issued, the venerable Joseph Warton was so much entranced that he sat up the greater part of the night to finish it.

The warfare between realism and romance, which went on in the days of Cervantes, as it does in the days of Zola and Howells, had its skirmished also in Mrs. Radcliffe's time. Jane Austen's "Northanger Abbey," written in 1803 but published only in 1817, is gently satirical of Gothic fiction. The heroine is devoted to the "Mysteries of Udolpho," which she discusses with her bosom friend. "While I have 'Udolpho' to read, I feel as if nobody could make me miserable. O the dreadful black veil! My dear Isabella, I am sure there must be Laurentina's skeleton behind it."

"When you have finished 'Udolpho,'" replies Isabella, "we will read 'The Italian' together; and I have made out a list of ten or twelve more of the same kind for you. . . I will read you their names directly. Here they are in my pocket-book. 'Castle of Wolfenbach,' 'Clermont,' 'Mysterious Warnings,' 'Necromancer of the Black Forest,' 'Midnight Bell,' 'Orphan of the Rhine,' and 'Horrid Mysteries.'"

When introduced to her friend's brother, Miss Morland asks him at once, "Have you ever read 'Udolpho,' Mr. Thorpe?" But Mr. Thorpe, who is not a literary man, but much given to dogs and horses, assures her that he never reads novels; they are "full of nonsense and stuff; there has not been a tolerably decent one come out since 'Tom Jones,' except the 'Monk.'" The scenery about Bath reminds Miss Morland of the south of France and "the country that Emily and her father traveled through in the 'Mysteries of Udolpho.'" She is enchanted at the prospect of a drive to Blaize Castle, where she hopes to have "the happiness of being stopped in their way along narrow, winding vaults by a low, grated door; or even of having their lamp—their only lamp—extinguished by a sudden gust of wind and of being left in total darkness." She visits her friends, the Tilneys, at their country seat, Northanger Abbey, in Glouchestershire; and, on the way thither, young Mr. Tilney teases her with a fancy sketch of the Gothic horrors which she will unearth there: the "sliding panels and tapestry"; the remote and gloomy guest chamber, which will be assigned her, with its ponderous chest and its portrait of a knight in armor: the secret door, with massy bars and padlocks, that she will discover behind the arras, leading to a "small vaulted room," and eventually to a "subterraneous communication between your apartment and the chapel of St. Anthony scarcely two miles off." Arrived at the abbey, she is disappointed at the modern appearance of her room, but contrives to find a secret drawer in an ancient ebony cabinet, and in this a roll of yellow manuscript which, on being deciphered, proves to be a washing bill. She is convinced, notwithstanding, that a mysterious door at the end of a certain gallery conducts to a series of isolated chambers where General Tilney, who is supposed to be a widower, is keeping his unhappy wife immured and fed on bread and water. When she finally gains admission to this Bluebeard's chamber and finds it nothing but a suite of modern rooms, "the visions of romance were over. . . Charming as were all Mrs. Radcliffe's works, and charming even as were the works of all her imitators, it was not in them, perhaps, that human nature, at least in the midland counties of England was to be looked for."


Footnotes:


[1] But compare the passage last quoted with the one from Warton's essay ante, p. 219.

[2] See ante, p. 49.

[3] Spectator, No. 62.

[4] See ante, p. 211.

[5] "Works of Richard Owen Cambridge," pp. 198-99. Cambridge was one of the Spenserian imitators. See ante, p. 89, note. In Lady Luxborough's correspondence with Shenstone there is much mention of a Mr. Miller, a neighboring proprietor, who was devoted to Gothic. On the appearance of "The Scribleriad," she writes (January 28, 1751), "I imagine this poem is not calculated to please Mr. Miller and the rest of the Gothic gentlemen; for this Mr. Cambridge expresses a dislike to the introducing or reviving tastes and fashions that are inferior to the modern taste of our country."

[6] "History of the Gothic Revival," p. 43.

[7] "Works of Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford," in five volumes, 1798. "A Description of Strawberry Hill," Vol. II. pp. 395-516.

[8] Pugin's "True Principles of Gothic Architecture" was published in 1841.

[9] "Sketches of Eminent Statesmen and Writers," A. Hayward (1880). In a note to "Marmion" (1808) Scott said that the ruins of Crichton Castle, remarkable for the richness and elegance of its stone carvings, were then used as a cattle-pen and a sheep-fold.

[10] "Hours in a Library," Second Series: article, "Horace Walpole."

[11] Letter to Bentley, February 23, 1755.

[12] Five hundred copies, says Walpole, were struck off December 24, 1764.

[13] "The Mysterious Mother," begun 1766, finished 1768.

[14] "The Castle of Otranto" was dramatized by Robert Jephson, under the title "The Count of Narbonne," put on at Covent Garden Theater in 1781, and afterward printed, with a dedication to Walpole.

[15] James Beattie, "Dissertation on Fable and Romance." "Argenius," was printed in 1621.

[16] "The Dictionary of National Biography" miscalls it "Earl of Canterbury," and attributes it, though with a query, to John Leland.

[17] See also, for a notice of this writer, Julia Kavanagh's "English Women of Letters."

[18] Maturin's "Melmoth the Wanderer" (1820) had some influence on the French romantic school and was utilized, in some particulars, by Balzac.

[19] Following is a list of Mrs. Radcliffe's romances: "The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne" (1789); "Sicilian Romance" (1790); "Romance of the Forest" (1791); "Mysteries of Udolpho" (1794); "The Italian" (1797); "Gaston de Blondville" (1826). Collections of her poems were published in 1816, 1834, and 1845.

[20] See "Childe Harold," canto iv, xviii.

[21] "Roundabout Papers," "A Peal of Bells." "Monk" Lewis wrote at sixteen a burlesque novel, "Effusions of Sensibility," which remained in MS.

[22] "O Radcliffe, thou once wert the charmer
Of girls who sat reading all night:
They heroes were striplings in armor,
Thy heroines, damsels in white."
Songs, Ballads and Other Poems.

By Thos. Haynes Bayly, London, 1857, p. 141.

"A novel now is nothing more
Than an old castle and a creaking door,
A distant hovel,
Clanking of chains, a gallery, a light,
Old armor and a phantom all in white,
And there's a novel."
George Colman, "The Will."

[23] Several of her romances were dramatized and translated into French. It is curious, by the way, to find that Goethe was not unaware of Walpole's story. See his quatrain "Die Burg von Otranto," first printed in 1837.

"Sind die Zimmer sämmtlich besetzt der Burg von Otranto:
Kommt, voll innigen Grimmes, der erste Riesenbesitzer
Stuckweis an, and verdrängt die neuen falschen Bewohner.
Wehe! den Fliehenden, weh! den Bleibenden also geschiet es."

[24] Ossian.

[25] See her "Journey through Holland," etc. (1795)

[26] cf. Keats, "The Eve of Saint Agnes":

"The arras rich with hunt and horse and hound
Flattered in the besieging wind's uproar,
And the long carpets rose along the gusty floor."

[27] "Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne."

[28] See Julia Kavanagh's "English Women of Letters."

Henry Augustin Beers

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