Horace Walpole.

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THE CASTLE OF OTRANTO


PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION.


The following work was found in the library of an ancient Catholic
family in the north of England. It was printed at Naples, in the
black letter, in the year 1529. How much sooner it was written
does not appear. The principal incidents are such as were believed
in the darkest ages of Christianity; but the language and conduct
have nothing that savours of barbarism. The style is the purest
Italian.

If the story was written near the time when it is supposed to have
happened, it must have been between 1095, the era of the first
Crusade, and 1243, the date of the last, or not long afterwards.
There is no other circumstance in the work that can lead us to
guess at the period in which the scene is laid: the names of the
actors are evidently fictitious, and probably disguised on purpose:
yet the Spanish names of the domestics seem to indicate that this
work was not composed until the establishment of the Arragonian
Kings in Naples had made Spanish appellations familiar in that
country. The beauty of the diction, and the zeal of the author
(moderated, however, by singular judgment) concur to make me think
that the date of the composition was little antecedent to that of
the impression. Letters were then in their most flourishing state
in Italy, and contributed to dispel the empire of superstition, at
that time so forcibly attacked by the reformers. It is not
unlikely that an artful priest might endeavour to turn their own
arms on the innovators, and might avail himself of his abilities as
an author to confirm the populace in their ancient errors and
superstitions. If this was his view, he has certainly acted with
signal address. Such a work as the following would enslave a
hundred vulgar minds beyond half the books of controversy that have
been written from the days of Luther to the present hour.

This solution of the author's motives is, however, offered as a
mere conjecture. Whatever his views were, or whatever effects the
execution of them might have, his work can only be laid before the
public at present as a matter of entertainment. Even as such, some
apology for it is necessary. Miracles, visions, necromancy,
dreams, and other preternatural events, are exploded now even from
romances. That was not the case when our author wrote; much less
when the story itself is supposed to have happened. Belief in
every kind of prodigy was so established in those dark ages, that
an author would not be faithful to the manners of the times, who
should omit all mention of them. He is not bound to believe them
himself, but he must represent his actors as believing them.

If this air of the miraculous is excused, the reader will find
nothing else unworthy of his perusal. Allow the possibility of the
facts, and all the actors comport themselves as persons would do in
their situation. There is no bombast, no similes, flowers,
digressions, or unnecessary descriptions. Everything tends
directly to the catastrophe. Never is the reader's attention
relaxed. The rules of the drama are almost observed throughout the
conduct of the piece. The characters are well drawn, and still
better maintained. Terror, the author's principal engine, prevents
the story from ever languishing; and it is so often contrasted by
pity, that the mind is kept up in a constant vicissitude of
interesting passions.

Some persons may perhaps think the characters of the domestics too
little serious for the general cast of the story; but besides their
opposition to the principal personages, the art of the author is
very observable in his conduct of the subalterns. They discover
many passages essential to the story, which could not be well
brought to light but by their naivete and simplicity. In
particular, the womanish terror and foibles of Bianca, in the last
chapter, conduce essentially towards advancing the catastrophe.

It is natural for a translator to be prejudiced in favour of his
adopted work. More impartial readers may not be so much struck
with the beauties of this piece as I was. Yet I am not blind to my
author's defects. I could wish he had grounded his plan on a more
useful moral than this: that "the sins of fathers are visited on
their children to the third and fourth generation." I doubt
whether, in his time, any more than at present, ambition curbed its
appetite of dominion from the dread of so remote a punishment. And
yet this moral is weakened by that less direct insinuation, that
even such anathema may be diverted by devotion to St. Nicholas.
Here the interest of the Monk plainly gets the better of the
judgment of the author. However, with all its faults, I have no
doubt but the English reader will be pleased with a sight of this
performance. The piety that reigns throughout, the lessons of
virtue that are inculcated, and the rigid purity of the sentiments,
exempt this work from the censure to which romances are but too
liable. Should it meet with the success I hope for, I may be
encouraged to reprint the original Italian, though it will tend to
depreciate my own labour. Our language falls far short of the
charms of the Italian, both for variety and harmony. The latter is
peculiarly excellent for simple narrative. It is difficult in
English to relate without falling too low or rising too high; a
fault obviously occasioned by the little care taken to speak pure
language in common conversation. Every Italian or Frenchman of any
rank piques himself on speaking his own tongue correctly and with
choice. I cannot flatter myself with having done justice to my
author in this respect: his style is as elegant as his conduct of
the passions is masterly. It is a pity that he did not apply his
talents to what they were evidently proper for - the theatre.

I will detain the reader no longer, but to make one short remark.
Though the machinery is invention, and the names of the actors
imaginary, I cannot but believe that the groundwork of the story is
founded on truth. The scene is undoubtedly laid in some real
castle. The author seems frequently, without design, to describe
particular parts. "The chamber," says he, "on the right hand;"
"the door on the left hand;" "the distance from the chapel to
Conrad's apartment:" these and other passages are strong
presumptions that the author had some certain building in his eye.
Curious persons, who have leisure to employ in such researches, may
possibly discover in the Italian writers the foundation on which
our author has built. If a catastrophe, at all resembling that
which he describes, is believed to have given rise to this work, it
will contribute to interest the reader, and will make the "Castle
of Otranto" a still more moving story.


SONNET TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE LADY MARY COKE.


The gentle maid, whose hapless tale
These melancholy pages speak;
Say, gracious lady, shall she fail
To draw the tear adown thy cheek?

No; never was thy pitying breast
Insensible to human woes;
Tender, tho' firm, it melts distrest
For weaknesses it never knows.

Oh! guard the marvels I relate
Of fell ambition scourg'd by fate,
From reason's peevish blame.
Blest with thy smile, my dauntless sail
I dare expand to Fancy's gale,
For sure thy smiles are Fame.

H. W.


CHAPTER I.


Manfred, Prince of Otranto, had one son and one daughter: the
latter, a most beautiful virgin, aged eighteen, was called Matilda.
Conrad, the son, was three years younger, a homely youth, sickly,
and of no promising disposition; yet he was the darling of his
father, who never showed any symptoms of affection to Matilda.
Manfred had contracted a marriage for his son with the Marquis of
Vicenza's daughter, Isabella; and she had already been delivered by
her guardians into the hands of Manfred, that he might celebrate
the wedding as soon as Conrad's infirm state of health would
permit.

Manfred's impatience for this ceremonial was remarked by his family
and neighbours. The former, indeed, apprehending the severity of
their Prince's disposition, did not dare to utter their surmises on
this precipitation. Hippolita, his wife, an amiable lady, did
sometimes venture to represent the danger of marrying their only
son so early, considering his great youth, and greater infirmities;
but she never received any other answer than reflections on her own
sterility, who had given him but one heir. His tenants and
subjects were less cautious in their discourses. They attributed
this hasty wedding to the Prince's dread of seeing accomplished an
ancient prophecy, which was said to have pronounced that the castle
and lordship of Otranto "should pass from the present family,
whenever the real owner should be grown too large to inhabit it."
It was difficult to make any sense of this prophecy; and still less
easy to conceive what it had to do with the marriage in question.
Yet these mysteries, or contradictions, did not make the populace
adhere the less to their opinion.

Young Conrad's birthday was fixed for his espousals. The company
was assembled in the chapel of the Castle, and everything ready for
beginning the divine office, when Conrad himself was missing.
Manfred, impatient of the least delay, and who had not observed his
son retire, despatched one of his attendants to summon the young
Prince. The servant, who had not stayed long enough to have
crossed the court to Conrad's apartment, came running back
breathless, in a frantic manner, his eyes staring, and foaming at
the month. He said nothing, but pointed to the court.

The company were struck with terror and amazement. The Princess
Hippolita, without knowing what was the matter, but anxious for her
son, swooned away. Manfred, less apprehensive than enraged at the
procrastination of the nuptials, and at the folly of his domestic,
asked imperiously what was the matter? The fellow made no answer,
but continued pointing towards the courtyard; and at last, after
repeated questions put to him, cried out, "Oh! the helmet! the
helmet!"

In the meantime, some of the company had run into the court, from
whence was heard a confused noise of shrieks, horror, and surprise.
Manfred, who began to be alarmed at not seeing his son, went
himself to get information of what occasioned this strange
confusion. Matilda remained endeavouring to assist her mother, and
Isabella stayed for the same purpose, and to avoid showing any
impatience for the bridegroom, for whom, in truth, she had
conceived little affection.

The first thing that struck Manfred's eyes was a group of his
servants endeavouring to raise something that appeared to him a
mountain of sable plumes. He gazed without believing his sight.

"What are ye doing?" cried Manfred, wrathfully; "where is my son?"

A volley of voices replied, "Oh! my Lord! the Prince! the Prince!
the helmet! the helmet!"

Shocked with these lamentable sounds, and dreading he knew not
what, he advanced hastily, - but what a sight for a father's eyes! -
he beheld his child dashed to pieces, and almost buried under an
enormous helmet, an hundred times more large than any casque ever
made for human being, and shaded with a proportionable quantity of
black feathers.

The horror of the spectacle, the ignorance of all around how this
misfortune had happened, and above all, the tremendous phenomenon
before him, took away the Prince's speech. Yet his silence lasted
longer than even grief could occasion. He fixed his eyes on what
he wished in vain to believe a vision; and seemed less attentive to
his loss, than buried in meditation on the stupendous object that
had occasioned it. He touched, he examined the fatal casque; nor
could even the bleeding mangled remains of the young Prince divert
the eyes of Manfred from the portent before him.

All who had known his partial fondness for young Conrad, were as
much surprised at their Prince's insensibility, as thunderstruck
themselves at the miracle of the helmet. They conveyed the
disfigured corpse into the hall, without receiving the least
direction from Manfred. As little was he attentive to the ladies
who remained in the chapel. On the contrary, without mentioning
the unhappy princesses, his wife and daughter, the first sounds
that dropped from Manfred's lips were, "Take care of the Lady
Isabella."

The domestics, without observing the singularity of this direction,
were guided by their affection to their mistress, to consider it as
peculiarly addressed to her situation, and flew to her assistance.
They conveyed her to her chamber more dead than alive, and
indifferent to all the strange circumstances she heard, except the
death of her son.

Matilda, who doted on her mother, smothered her own grief and
amazement, and thought of nothing but assisting and comforting her
afflicted parent. Isabella, who had been treated by Hippolita like
a daughter, and who returned that tenderness with equal duty and
affection, was scarce less assiduous about the Princess; at the
same time endeavouring to partake and lessen the weight of sorrow
which she saw Matilda strove to suppress, for whom she had
conceived the warmest sympathy of friendship. Yet her own
situation could not help finding its place in her thoughts. She
felt no concern for the death of young Conrad, except
commiseration; and she was not sorry to be delivered from a
marriage which had promised her little felicity, either from her
destined bridegroom, or from the severe temper of Manfred, who,
though he had distinguished her by great indulgence, had imprinted
her mind with terror, from his causeless rigour to such amiable
princesses as Hippolita and Matilda.

While the ladies were conveying the wretched mother to her bed,
Manfred remained in the court, gazing on the ominous casque, and
regardless of the crowd which the strangeness of the event had now
assembled around him. The few words he articulated, tended solely
to inquiries, whether any man knew from whence it could have come?
Nobody could give him the least information. However, as it seemed
to be the sole object of his curiosity, it soon became so to the
rest of the spectators, whose conjectures were as absurd and
improbable, as the catastrophe itself was unprecedented. In the
midst of their senseless guesses, a young peasant, whom rumour had
drawn thither from a neighbouring village, observed that the
miraculous helmet was exactly like that on the figure in black
marble of Alfonso the Good, one of their former princes, in the
church of St. Nicholas.

"Villain! What sayest thou?" cried Manfred, starting from his
trance in a tempest of rage, and seizing the young man by the
collar; "how darest thou utter such treason? Thy life shall pay
for it."

The spectators, who as little comprehended the cause of the
Prince's fury as all the rest they had seen, were at a loss to
unravel this new circumstance. The young peasant himself was still
more astonished, not conceiving how he had offended the Prince.
Yet recollecting himself, with a mixture of grace and humility, he
disengaged himself from Manfred's grip, and then with an obeisance,
which discovered more jealousy of innocence than dismay, he asked,
with respect, of what he was guilty? Manfred, more enraged at the
vigour, however decently exerted, with which the young man had
shaken off his hold, than appeased by his submission, ordered his
attendants to seize him, and, if he had not been withheld by his
friends whom he had invited to the nuptials, would have poignarded
the peasant in their arms.

During this altercation, some of the vulgar spectators had run to
the great church, which stood near the castle, and came back open-
mouthed, declaring that the helmet was missing from Alfonso's
statue. Manfred, at this news, grew perfectly frantic; and, as if
he sought a subject on which to vent the tempest within him, he
rushed again on the young peasant, crying -

"Villain! Monster! Sorcerer! 'tis thou hast done this! 'tis thou
hast slain my son!"

The mob, who wanted some object within the scope of their
capacities, on whom they might discharge their bewildered
reasoning, caught the words from the mouth of their lord, and re-
echoed -

"Ay, ay; 'tis he, 'tis he: he has stolen the helmet from good
Alfonso's tomb, and dashed out the brains of our young Prince with
it," never reflecting how enormous the disproportion was between
the marble helmet that had been in the church, and that of steel
before their eyes; nor how impossible it was for a youth seemingly
not twenty, to wield a piece of armour of so prodigious a weight

The folly of these ejaculations brought Manfred to himself: yet
whether provoked at the peasant having observed the resemblance
between the two helmets, and thereby led to the farther discovery
of the absence of that in the church, or wishing to bury any such
rumour under so impertinent a supposition, he gravely pronounced
that the young man was certainly a necromancer, and that till the
Church could take cognisance of the affair, he would have the
Magician, whom they had thus detected, kept prisoner under the
helmet itself, which he ordered his attendants to raise, and place
the young man under it; declaring he should be kept there without
food, with which his own infernal art might furnish him.

It was in vain for the youth to represent against this preposterous
sentence: in vain did Manfred's friends endeavour to divert him
from this savage and ill-grounded resolution. The generality were
charmed with their lord's decision, which, to their apprehensions,
carried great appearance of justice, as the Magician was to be
punished by the very instrument with which he had offended: nor
were they struck with the least compunction at the probability of
the youth being starved, for they firmly believed that, by his
diabolic skill, he could easily supply himself with nutriment.

Manfred thus saw his commands even cheerfully obeyed; and
appointing a guard with strict orders to prevent any food being
conveyed to the prisoner, he dismissed his friends and attendants,
and retired to his own chamber, after locking the gates of the
castle, in which he suffered none but his domestics to remain.

In the meantime, the care and zeal of the young Ladies had brought
the Princess Hippolita to herself, who amidst the transports of her
own sorrow frequently demanded news of her lord, would have
dismissed her attendants to watch over him, and at last enjoined
Matilda to leave her, and visit and comfort her father. Matilda,
who wanted no affectionate duty to Manfred, though she trembled at
his austerity, obeyed the orders of Hippolita, whom she tenderly
recommended to Isabella; and inquiring of the domestics for her
father, was informed that he was retired to his chamber, and had
commanded that nobody should have admittance to him. Concluding
that he was immersed in sorrow for the death of her brother, and
fearing to renew his tears by the sight of his sole remaining
child, she hesitated whether she should break in upon his
affliction; yet solicitude for him, backed by the commands of her
mother, encouraged her to venture disobeying the orders he had
given; a fault she had never been guilty of before.

The gentle timidity of her nature made her pause for some minutes
at his door. She heard him traverse his chamber backwards, and
forwards with disordered steps; a mood which increased her
apprehensions. She was, however, just going to beg admittance,
when Manfred suddenly opened the door; and as it was now twilight,
concurring with the disorder of his mind, he did not distinguish
the person, but asked angrily, who it was? Matilda replied,
trembling -

"My dearest father, it is I, your daughter."

Manfred, stepping back hastily, cried, "Begone! I do not want a
daughter;" and flinging back abruptly, clapped the door against the
terrified Matilda.

She was too well acquainted with her father's impetuosity to
venture a second intrusion. When she had a little recovered the
shock of so bitter a reception, she wiped away her tears to prevent
the additional stab that the knowledge of it would give to
Hippolita, who questioned her in the most anxious terms on the
health of Manfred, and how he bore his loss. Matilda assured her
he was well, and supported his misfortune with manly fortitude.

"But will he not let me see him?" said Hippolita mournfully; "will
he not permit me to blend my tears with his, and shed a mother's
sorrows in the bosom of her Lord? Or do you deceive me, Matilda?
I know how Manfred doted on his son: is not the stroke too heavy
for him? has he not sunk under it? You do not answer me - alas! I
dread the worst! - Raise me, my maidens; I will, I will see my Lord.
Bear me to him instantly: he is dearer to me even than my
children."

Matilda made signs to Isabella to prevent Hippolita's rising; and
both those lovely young women were using their gentle violence to
stop and calm the Princess, when a servant, on the part of Manfred,
arrived and told Isabella that his Lord demanded to speak with her.

"With me!" cried Isabella.

"Go," said Hippolita, relieved by a message from her Lord:
"Manfred cannot support the sight of his own family. He thinks you
less disordered than we are, and dreads the shock of my grief.
Console him, dear Isabella, and tell him I will smother my own
anguish rather than add to his."

As it was now evening the servant who conducted Isabella bore a
torch before her. When they came to Manfred, who was walking
impatiently about the gallery, he started, and said hastily -

"Take away that light, and begone."

Then shutting the door impetuously, he flung himself upon a bench
against the wall, and bade Isabella sit by him. She obeyed
trembling.

"I sent for you, Lady," said he - and then stopped under great
appearance of confusion.

"My Lord!"

"Yes, I sent for you on a matter of great moment," resumed he.
"Dry your tears, young Lady - you have lost your bridegroom. Yes,
cruel fate! and I have lost the hopes of my race! But Conrad was
not worthy of your beauty."

"How, my Lord!" said Isabella; "sure you do not suspect me of not
feeling the concern I ought: my duty and affection would have
always - "

"Think no more of him," interrupted Manfred; "he was a sickly, puny
child, and Heaven has perhaps taken him away, that I might not
trust the honours of my house on so frail a foundation. The line
of Manfred calls for numerous supports. My foolish fondness for
that boy blinded the eyes of my prudence - but it is better as it
is. I hope, in a few years, to have reason to rejoice at the death
of Conrad."

Words cannot paint the astonishment of Isabella. At first she
apprehended that grief had disordered Manfred's understanding. Her
next thought suggested that this strange discourse was designed to
ensnare her: she feared that Manfred had perceived her
indifference for his son: and in consequence of that idea she
replied -

"Good my Lord, do not doubt my tenderness: my heart would have
accompanied my hand. Conrad would have engrossed all my care; and
wherever fate shall dispose of me, I shall always cherish his
memory, and regard your Highness and the virtuous Hippolita as my
parents."

"Curse on Hippolita!" cried Manfred. "Forget her from this moment,
as I do. In short, Lady, you have missed a husband undeserving of
your charms: they shall now be better disposed of. Instead of a
sickly boy, you shall have a husband in the prime of his age, who
will know how to value your beauties, and who may expect a numerous
offspring."

"Alas, my Lord!" said Isabella, "my mind is too sadly engrossed by
the recent catastrophe in your family to think of another marriage.
If ever my father returns, and it shall be his pleasure, I shall
obey, as I did when I consented to give my hand to your son: but
until his return, permit me to remain under your hospitable roof,
and employ the melancholy hours in assuaging yours, Hippolita's,
and the fair Matilda's affliction."

"I desired you once before," said Manfred angrily, "not to name
that woman: from this hour she must be a stranger to you, as she
must be to me. In short, Isabella, since I cannot give you my son,
I offer you myself."

"Heavens!" cried Isabella, waking from her delusion, "what do I
hear? You! my Lord! You! My father-in-law! the father of Conrad!
the husband of the virtuous and tender Hippolita!"

"I tell you," said Manfred imperiously, "Hippolita is no longer my
wife; I divorce her from this hour. Too long has she cursed me by
her unfruitfulness. My fate depends on having sons, and this night


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Online LibraryHorace WalpoleThe Castle of Otranto → online text (page 1 of 9)