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that great mistress of romance... The attempt has
succeeded beyond my most sanguine expectation. Romance,
if I am not mistaken, is destined shortly to undergo an
important change. Modified by the German and French
writers - Hoffmann, Tieck, Victor Hugo, Alexander Dumas,
Balzac and Paul Lacroix - the structure commenced in our
land by Horace Walpole, 'Monk' Lewis, Mrs. Radcliffe
and Maturin, but, left imperfect and inharmonious,
requires, now that the rubbish which choked up its
approach is removed, only the hand of the skilful
architect to its entire renovation and perfection."

In _Rookwood_, Ainsworth disdains Mrs. Radcliffe's reasonable
elucidations of the supernatural, and introduces spectres whose
existence it would be impossible to deny. Once, however, a
supposed ghost becomes substantial, and proves to be none other
than a human being called Jack Palmer. The sexton, Luke Bradley,
_alias_ Alan Rookwood, has inherited two of the Wanderer's
traits - the fear-impelling eyes of intolerable lustre, and the
habit of indulging in wild, screaming laughter on the most
inauspicious occasions.

Gothic properties are scattered with indiscriminate
extravagance - skeleton hands, suddenly extinguished candles,
sliding panels, sepulchral vaults. The plot of _Rookwood_ is too
complicated and too overcrowded with incident to keep our
attention. The terrors are so unremitting that they fail to
strike home. The only part of the book which holds us enthralled
is the famous description of Dick Turpin's ride to York. Here we
forget Ainsworth's slip-shod style in the excitement of the
chase. In his later novels Ainsworth abandoned the manner of Mrs.
Radcliffe, but did not fail to make use of the motive of terror
and mystery. The scenes of horror which he strove to convey in
words were often more admirably depicted in the illustrations of
Cruikshank. The sorcerer's sabbath in _Crichton_, the historical
scenes of horror in _The Tower of London_, the masque of the
Dance of Death in _Old St. Paul's_, the appearance of Herne the
Hunter, heralded by phosphoric lights, in _Windsor Castle_, the
terrible orgies of _The Lancashire Witches_, are described with
more striking effect because of Ainsworth's early reading in the
school of terror. In _Auriol_, which was first published in
_Ainsworth's Magazine_ (1844-5) under the title _Revelations of
London_, was issued in 1845 as a gratuitous supplement to the
_New Monthly_, and greeted with derision,[125] Ainsworth handled
once again the theme that fascinated Lytton. The Prologue (1599)
describes the death of Dr. Lamb, whose elixir is seized by his
great-grandson. In 1830 London is haunted by a stranger, who
involves Auriol in wildly fantastic and frightful adventures. The
book closes in Dr. Lamb's laboratory; the intervening scenes are
but dream imagery. Phiz's sketch of the Ruined House is the most
lasting memory left by the book.

Captain Marryat, whose mind was well stored with sailors' yarns,
retells in _The Phantom Ship_ (1839) the old legend of the Flying
Dutchman. At one time the doomed vessel is an unsubstantial
vision, which can pass clean through the Utrecht; at another she
is a real craft, whose deck can be boarded by mortal men. The
one-eyed pilot, Schriften, with his malignant hatred of the hero,
Philip, is a terrifying figure. The story is embroidered by the
invention of a wife of Arab extraction, who is constantly
attempting to recall the half-forgotten magical arts which her
mother had practised. Marryat makes an opportunity in the history
of Krantz, the second mate of the _Vrou Katerina_, to introduce
the Scandinavian legend of the werewolf, which is related with
grisly detail.

The novel of terror, with all its faults, had seldom been guilty
of demanding intellectual strain or of overburdening itself with
erudition. It was the dignified task of Lord Lytton to
rationalise and elevate the novel of terror, to evolve the "man
of reason" from the "child of nature." Although time has
tarnished the brilliance of his reputation, George Edward Bulwer
was an imposing figure in the history of nineteenth century
fiction. Throughout his life, in spite of political and social
distractions and of matrimonial disaster, he continued to engage
with unwearying industry in literary work. He was not a man of
genius in whom the creative impulse found its own expression, but
a versatile and accomplished gentleman who could direct his
talents into any channel he pleased. Essays, translations,
verses, plays, novels flowed from his pen in rapid succession,
and he won his meed of applause and fame, as well as his share of
execration and derision, in his own lifetime. Quick to discern
the popular taste of the hour, and eager to gratify it, Lytton,
with the resourceful agility of a lightning impersonator, turns
in his novels from Wertherism to dandyism, from criminal
psychology to fairy folk-lore, from historical romance to
domestic romance, from pseudo-philosophic occultism to
pseudo-scientific fantasy. He ranges at will in the past, the
present or the future, consorting indifferently with impalpable
wraiths, Vrilya or mysterious Sages. It is to his credit that
this unusual gift of adaptability does not result in
incompetency. Though he attempts a variety of manners, it must in
justice be acknowledged that he does most of them well. He
constructs his plots with laborious art, and pays a deliberate,
if sometimes misguided, attention to style. When he fails, it is
less from lack of effort than from over-elaboration and excess of

Bulwer Lytton's predilection for the supernatural was neither a
theatrical pose nor a passing folly excited by the fashionable
craze for psychical research, but a genuine and enduring
interest, inherited, it may be, from his ancestor, the learned,
eccentric savant, Dr. Bulwer, who studied the Black Art and
dabbled in astrology and palmistry. He was a member of the
society of Rosicrucians, and, to quote the words of his grandson,
"he certainly did not study magic for the sake of writing about
it, still less did he write about it, without having studied it,
merely for the sake of making his readers' flesh creep." From his
early years Lytton seems to have been keenly interested in
supernatural manifestations. He was inspired by the deserted
rooms at the end of a long gallery in Knebworth House to set down
the story of the ghost, Jenny Spinner, who was said to haunt
them; and the concealed chamber in _The Haunted and the Haunters_
may have been a revived memory of the trap-door down which Lytton
as a boy had "peeped with bristling hair into the shadowy abysses
of hellhole." In _Glenallan_,[126] an early fragment, we find
promising material for a tale of mystery - a villain with a
"strange and sinister expression," a boy who, like the youthful
Shelley, steals forth by night to graveyards, hoping to attain to
fearful secrets, and an aged servant, a living chronicle of
horrors, who relates the doings of an Irish wizard, Morshed
Tyrone, of such awful power that the spirits of the earth, air
and ocean ministered to him. In _Godolphin_ (1833) there is an
astrologer with the furrowed brow and awful eye, so common among
the people of terror, and a strangely gifted girl, Lucilla, who
turns soothsayer. But when Bulwer Lytton attempts a supernatural
romance he leaves far behind him the sphere of Gothic terrors and
soars into rarefied, exalted regions that inspire awe rather than
horror. The Dweller of the Threshold in _Zanoni_ is no
red-cloaked, demoniacal figure springing from a trap-door with a
deafening clap of thunder, but a "Colossal Shadow" brooding over
the crater of Vesuvius.

The romance, _Zanoni_ (1842), which Lytton considered the
greatest of his works and which Carlyle praised with what now
seems extravagant fervour, was based on an earlier sketch,
_Zicci_ (1838), and embodies a complicated theory which he had
conceived several years earlier after reading some mediaeval
treatises on astrology and the occult sciences. While his mind
was occupied with these studies, the character of Mejnour and the
main outlines of the story were inspired by a dream, which he
related to his son. According to Lytton's theory, the air is
peopled with Intelligences, of whom some are favourable, others
hostile to man. The earth contains certain plants, which, rightly
used, have power to arrest the decay of the human body, and to
enable man, by quickening his physical senses and mental gifts,
to perceive the aerial beings and to discover the secrets of
nature. This supernatural knowledge is in possession of a
brotherhood of whom two only, Mejnour and his pupil Zanoni, are
in existence. The initiation involves the surrender of all
violent passions and emotions, and the neophyte must be brought
into contact with the powerful and malignant being called the
Dweller of the Threshold:

"Whose form of giant mould
No mortal eye can fixed behold,"

Mejnour and Zanoni are supposed to have been initiated - the
former in old age, the latter in youth - more than five thousand
years before the story opens. Thus Mejnour remains for ever a
vigorous old man; while Zanoni, his pupil, enjoys perpetual
youth. Mejnour is purely intellectual, and spends his life in
contemplation; while Zanoni, though he must avoid love and
friendship which are unknown to the passionless Intelligences,
feels sympathy with human beings.

Zanoni, who spends his life in the pursuit of pleasure, after
fifty centuries at last falls in love with Viola, an Italian
opera-singer. Like Melmoth the Wanderer, Zanoni is reluctant to
bind the woman he loves to his own fate. He tries to renounce
Viola to an Englishman, Glyndon, who eventually chooses to
relinquish love for the sake of achieving the unearthly knowledge
of Mejnour. Glyndon, however, fails in the trial, and is
consequently haunted by the horror of the Dweller of the
Threshold. Meanwhile Zanoni is united to Viola; and because he
has succumbed to the force of love, his peculiar powers begin to
fail. He can no longer see the beautiful, aerial intelligence,
Adon-Ai. To save from death Viola and the child who is born to
them, Zanoni ere long yields to the Dweller of the Threshold his
gift of communion with the inhabitants of heaven. Later Viola,
who incidentally typifies Superstition deserting Faith, leaves
Zanoni at the call of Glyndon, and in Paris, during the Reign of
Terror, is doomed to die. Zanoni invokes the aid of the
mysterious Intelligences, and his courage at length brings
Adon-Ai again to his side. He wins a day's reprieve for Viola,
and is executed in her stead. The death of Robespierre releases
the prisoners, but Viola dies the next day.

The compact between Zanoni and the Dweller of the Threshold is a
renovation of the time-worn legend of the bargain with an evil
spirit, but Lytton transforms it almost beyond recognition.
Zanoni is no criminal. He has attained his secrets through
will-power, self-conquest, and the subordination of the flesh to
the spirit, and he surrenders his gifts willingly for the sake of
another. Both Mejnour and Zanoni disclaim miraculous powers, yet
Zanoni is ready to stake his mistress on a cast of the dice, and
can cause the death of three sanguinary marauders without
stirring from the apartment in which he ordinarily pursues his
chemical studies. From such incidents as these it would seem as
if Lytton, for the actual craftsmanship of _Zanoni_, may have
gleaned stray hints from the novel of terror; but the spirit and
intention of the book are entirely different. Though Lytton
expressly declares that his _Zanoni_ is not an allegory, he
confesses that it has symbolical meanings. Zanoni is apt to
assume the superior pose of a lecturer elucidating an abstruse
subject to an unenlightened audience. The impression of artifice
that the book makes upon us is probably due to the fact that
Lytton first conceived his theories and then created personages
to illustrate them. His characters have no power to act of their
own volition or to do unexpected things, but must move along the
lines laid down for them.

In _The Haunted and the Haunters, or The House and the Brain_,
which appeared in _Blackwood's Magazine_ in 1859, Bulwer Lytton
lays aside the sin of over-elaboration and ornamentation that so
easily besets him, and relies for his effect on the impalpable
horror of his story. The calm, business-like overture, the
accurate description of the position of the house in a street off
the north side of Oxford Street, the insistence on the
matter-of-fact attitude of the watcher, and on the cool courage
of his servant, the abject fear of the dog, who dies in agony,
all tend to create an atmosphere of grave conviction. The eerie
child's footfall, the moving of the furniture by unseen hands,
the wrinkled fingers that clutch the old letters, the faintly
outlined wraiths of the man and woman in old-world garb with
ruffles, lace, and buckles, the hideous phantom of the drowned
man, the dark figure with malignant serpent eyes, shadow forth
the story hinted at in the letters found in an old drawer.
Haunted by loathly presences, the watcher experiences a sensation
of almost intolerable horror, but saves himself at the worst by
opposing his will to that of the haunters. He rightly surmises
that the evil influences, which seem in some way to emanate from
a small empty room, really proceed from a living being. His
interpretation is skilful and subtle enough not to detract from
the simple horror of the tale. A miniature, certain volatile
essences, a compass, a lodestone and other properties are found
in a room below that which appeared to be the source of the
horrors. It proves that the man, whose face is portrayed on the
miniature has been able through the exertion of will-power to
prolong his life for two centuries, and to preserve a curse in a
magical vessel. He is actually interviewed by the watcher, to
whom he unfolds his remarkable history, and whom he mesmerises
into silence on the subject of his experiences in the haunted
house for a space of three months.

Lytton realises that it is not only what is told but what is left
unsaid that requires consideration in a ghost story. His
reticence and the entire absence of any note of mockery or doubt
secure the "willing suspension of disbelief" necessary to the
appreciation of the apparently supernatural.

In _A Strange Story_, which, at Dickens's invitation, appeared in
_All the Year Round_ (1861-2), Bulwer Lytton further elaborates
his theories of mesmerism and willpower. He explains his purpose
in the Preface:

"When the reader lays down this strange story, perhaps
he will detect, through all the haze of Romance, the
outlines of these images suggested to his reason:
Firstly, the image of sensuous, soulless Nature, such
as the Materialist had conceived it. Secondly, the
image of Intellect, obstinately separating all its
inquiries from the belief in the spiritual essence and
destiny of man, and incurring all kinds of perplexity
and resorting to all kinds of visionary speculation
before it settles at last into the simple faith which
unites the philosopher and the infant. And thirdly, the
image of the erring but pure-thoughted Visionary,
seeking overmuch on this earth to separate soul from
mind, till innocence itself is led astray by a phantom
and reason is lost in the space between earth and the

These three conceptions are embodied in Margrave, who has renewed
his life far beyond the limits allotted to man; a young doctor,
Fenwick, who represents the intellectual divorced from the
spiritual; and Lilian Ashleigh, a clairvoyante girl, who typifies
the spiritual divorced from the intellectual. The interest of the
story turns on the struggle of Fenwick to gain his bride, and to
wrest her from the influence of Margrave. The plot, intricately
tangled, is unravelled with patient skill. In spite of the
wearisome explanations of Dr. Faber, who is lucid but verbose,
there is a fascination about the book which compels us to go

In Lytton's hands the barbarity of the novel of terror has been
gracefully smoothed away. It has, indeed, become almost
unrecognisably refined and elevated, and something of its native
vigour is lost in the process. Amid all the amenities of Vrilya
and Intelligences, we miss the vulgar blatancy of an honest,
old-fashioned spectre.


For the readers of their own day the Gothic romances of Walpole,
Miss Reeve and Mrs. Radcliffe possessed the charm of novelty.
Before the close of the century we may trace, in the
conversations of Isabella Thorpe and Catherine Morland in
_Northanger Abbey_, symptoms of a longing for more poignant
excitement. It was at this time that Mrs. Radcliffe, after the
publication of _The Italian_ in 1797, retired quietly from the
field. From her obscurity she viewed no doubt with some disdain
the vulgar achievements of "Monk" Lewis and a tribe of imitators,
who compounded a farrago of horrors as thick and slab as the
contents of a witch's cauldron. Until the appearance in 1820 of
Maturin's _Melmoth_, which was redeemed by its psychological
insight and its vigorous style, the Gothic romance maintained a
disreputable existence in the hands of those who looked upon
fiction as a lucrative trade, not as an art. In the meantime,
however, an easy device had been discovered for pandering to the
popular craving for excitement. Ingenious authors realised that
it was possible to compress into the five pages of a short story
as much sensation as was contained in the five volumes of a
Gothic romance. For the brevity of the tales, which were issued
in chapbooks, readers were compensated by gaudily coloured
illustrations and by double-barrelled titles. An anthology called
"Wild Roses" (published by Anne Lemoine, Coleman Street, n.d.)
included: _Twelve O'Clock or the Three Robbers, The Monks of
Cluny, or Castle Acre Monastery, The Tomb of Aurora, or The
Mysterious Summons, The Mysterious Spaniard, or The Ruins of St.
Luke's Abbey_, and lastly, as a _bonne bouche_, _Barbastal, or
The Magician of the Forest of the Bloody Ash_.[127] There are
many collections of this kind, some of them dating back to 1806,
among the chapbooks in the British Museum. It is in these brief,
blood-curdling romances that we may find the origin of the short
tale of terror, which became so popular a form of literature in
the nineteenth century. The taste for these delicious morsels has
lingered long. Dante Gabriel Rossetti delighted in _Brigand
Tales, Tales of Chivalry, Tales of Wonder, Legends of Terror_;
and it was in search of such booty, "a penny plain and twopence
coloured" that, more than fifty years later, Robert Louis
Stevenson and his companions ransacked the stores of a certain
secluded stationer's shop in Edinburgh.

It was probably the success of the chapbook that encouraged the
editors of periodicals early in the nineteenth century to enliven
their pages with sensational fiction. The literary hack, who, if
he had lived a century earlier, would have been glad to turn a
Turkish tale for half-a-crown, now cheerfully furnished a
"fireside horror" for the Christmas number. In his search after
novelty he was often driven to wild and desperate expedients.
Leigh Hunt, who showed scant sympathy with Lewis's bleeding nun
and scoffed mercilessly at his "little grey men who sit munching
hearts," was bound to admit: "A man who does not contribute his
quota of grim story, now-a-days, seems hardly to be free of the
republic of letters." Accordingly, so that he too might wear a
death's head as part of his _insignia_, he included in _The
Indicator_ (1819-21) a supernatural story, entitled _A Tale for a
Chimney Corner_. Scorning to "measure talents with a leg of veal
or a German sausage," he unfortunately dismissed from his
imagination the nightmarish hordes of

"Haunting Old Women and Knocking Ghosts, and Solitary
Lean Hands, and Empusas on one leg, and Ladies growing
Longer and Longer, and Horrid Eyes meeting us through
Keyholes; and Plaintive Heads and Shrieking Statues and
Shocking Anomalies of Shape and Things, which, when
seen, drove people mad,"

and in their place he conjured up a placid, ladylike ghost from a
legend quoted in Sandys' commentary on Ovid. Leigh Hunt's story
has the air of having been written by one who cared for none of
these things; but there were others who wrote with more gusto.

Many of the tales in such collections as _The Story-Teller_
(1833) or _The Romancist and Novelist's Library_ (1839-42) show
the persistence of Gothic story. In these periodicals the grave
and the gay are intermingled, and when we are weary of dark
intrigues and impenetrable secrets we may turn to lighter
reading. Yet it is significant of the taste of our ancestors that
we cannot venture far without encountering a spectre of some
sort, or a villain with the baleful eye, disguised, it may be, as
a Spanish gipsy, a German necromancer or a Russian count. Many of
the stories are Gothic novels, reduced in size, but with room for
all the old machinery:

"A novel now is nothing more
Than an old castle, and a creaking door,
A distant hovel,
Clanking of chains - a galley - a light -
Old armour, and a phantom all in white,
And there's a novel."

In _The Story-Teller_, a magazine which reprinted many popular
tales, we find German legends like _The Three Students of
G√ґttingen_, a "True Story Very Strange and Very Pitiful"; _The
Wood Demon; The Wehr-Wolf; The Sexton of Cologne, or Lucifer_, a
striking story of an Italian artist who was haunted by a terrible
figure he had painted in the church at Arezzo. Yet the first tale
in the collection, _The Story-Haunted_, which describes the sad
fate of a youth brought up in a solitary library reading romances
to his mother, was intended, like _The Spectre-Smitten_, in
_Passages from the Diary of a Late Physician_,[128] as a solemn
warning against over-indulgence in fictitious terrors. The mother
dies in an agony of horror, as her son reads aloud the account of
the Gentleman of Florence, who was pursued by a spectre of
himself, which vanished with him finally into the earth, as the
priest endeavoured to bless him. The son, left alone, enters the
world, and judges the people around him by the standard of books.
The story-haunted youth falls in love with the phantom of his own
imagination, whom he endows with all the graces of the heroines
of romance. He finds her embodied at last, but she dies before
they are united. _The Romancist and Novelist's Library_, in ten
volumes, contains a comprehensive selection of tales of terror by
the "best authors." Walpole, Miss Reeve, Mrs. Radcliffe, "Monk"
Lewis, Maturin, Mrs. Shelley, and Charles Brockden Brown are all
represented; and there are many translations of tales by French
and German authors. We may take our choice of _The Spectre
Barber_ or _The Spectre Bride_, or, if we are inclined to
incredulity, see _The Spectre Unmasked_. The entertainment
offered is of bewildering variety. Some of the stories, such as
D.F. Hayne's _Romance of the Castle_, seem like familiar,
well-tried friends, and conceal no surprises for the readers of
Gothic romance. Others, like _The Sleepless Woman_, by W. Jerdan,
are more piquant. The hero is warned by his dying uncle to beware
of women's bright eyes. In spite of this he marries a lady, whose
eyes unite the qualities of the robin and the falcon. After the
wedding he makes the awful discovery that she is of too noble a
lineage ever to sleep. Turn where he may, her eyes are always
upon him. At last, we find him pallid, haggard, and emaciated,
wandering alone in an avenue of cedar trees beside a silent lake:

"At this moment a breath of wind blew a branch aside - a
sunbeam fell upon the baron's face; he took it for the
eyes of his wife. Alas! his remedy lay temptingly
before him, the still, the profound, the shadowy lake.
De Launaye took one plunge - it was into eternity."

The writer foolishly ruins the effect of this climax by
super-imposing an allegorical interpretation.

Like the _Story-Teller, The Romancist and Novelist's Library_
should be read

"At night when doors are shut,
And the wood-worm pricks,
And the death-watch ticks,
And the bar has a flag of smut, -
And the cat's in the water-butt -
And the socket floats and flares,
And the housebeams groan,

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Online LibraryEdith BirkheadThe Tale of Terror A Study of the Gothic Romance → online text (page 14 of 19)