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magic beauty. The opening of the poem creates a sense of
foreboding, and the horror of the serpent-maiden is subtly
suggested through her effect on Christabel. Coleridge hints at
the terrible with artistic reticence. In _Kubla Khan_ the chasm

"A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover."

The poetry of Keats is often mysterious and suggestive of terror.
The description of the Gothic hall in _The Eve of St. Agnes_:

"In all the house was heard no human sound;
A chain-drooped lamp was flickering by each door;
The arras, rich with horseman, hawk and hound,
Fluttered in the besieging wind's uproar;
And the long carpets rose along the gusty floor;"

the serpent-maiden, Lamia, who

"Seemed at once some penanced lady elf,
Some demon's mistress, or the demon's self;"

the grim story in _Isabella_ of Lorenzo's ghost, who

"Moaned a ghostly undersong
Like hoarse night-gusts sepulchral briers along."

all lead us over the borderland. In a rejected stanza of the _Ode
on Melancholy_, he abandons the horrible:

"Though you should build a bark of dead men's bones
And rear a phantom gibbet for a mast,
Stitch shrouds together for a sail, with groans
To fill it out, blood-stained and aghast;
Although your rudder be a dragon's tail
Long severed, yet still hard with agony,
Your cordage, large uprootings from the skull
Of bald Medusa, certes you would fail
To find the Melancholy - "

Keats's melancholy is not to be found amid images
of horror:

"She dwells with Beauty - Beauty that must die,
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu."

In _La Belle Dame sans Merci_ he conveys with delicate touch the
memory of the vision which haunts the knight, alone and palely
loitering. We see it through his eyes:

"I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all:
They cried - 'La Belle Dame sans Merci
Hath thee in thrall!'

"I saw their starv'd lips in the gloam
With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill's side."

From effects so exquisitely wrought as these it seems almost
profane to turn to the crude attempts of such poets as "Monk"
Lewis or Southey to sound the note of terror. Yet they too, in
their fashion, played a part in the "Renascence of Wonder."
Coleridge, fascinated by the spirit of "gramarye" in Bürger's
_Lenore_, etherealised and refined it. Scott and Lewis gloried in
the gruesome details and spirited rhythm of the ballad, and in
their supernatural poems wish to startle and terrify, not to awe,
their readers. Those who revel in phosphorescent lights and in
the rattle of the skeleton are apt to o'erleap themselves; and
Scott's _Glenfinlas_, Lewis's _Alonzo the Brave and the Fair
Imogene_ and Southey's _Old Woman of Berkeley_ fall into the
category of the grotesque. Hogg intentionally mingles the comic
and the terrible in his poem, _The Witch of Fife_, but his
prose-stories reveal his power of creating an atmosphere of
_diablerie_, undisturbed by intrusive mockery. In the poem
_Kilmeny_, he handles an uncanny theme with dreamy beauty.

From the earliest times to the present day, writers of fiction
have realised the force of supernatural terror. In the
_Babylonica_ of Iamblichus, the lovers evade their pursuers by
passing as spectres; the scene of the romance is laid in tombs,
caverns, and robbers' dens, a setting remarkably like that of
Gothic story. Into the English novel of the first half of the
eighteenth century, however, the ghost dares not venture. The
innate desire for the marvellous was met at this period not by
the novel, but by oral tradition and by such works as Galland's
translation of _The Arabian Nights_, the Countess D'Aulnoy's
collection of fairy tales, Perrault's _Contes de ma Mère Oie_.
Chapbooks setting forth mediaeval legends of "The Wandering Jew,"
the "Demon Frigate," or "Dr. Faustus," and interspersed with
anecdotes of freaks, monsters and murderers, satisfied the
craving for excitement among humbler readers.[8] Smollett, who,
in his _Adventures of Ferdinand, Count Fathom_ (1753), seems to
have been experimenting with new devices for keeping alive the
interest of a _picaresque_ novel, anticipates the methods of Mrs.
Radcliffe. Although he sedulously avoids introducing the
supernatural, he hovers perilously on the threshold. The
publication of _The Castle of Otranto_ in 1764 was not so wild an
adventure as Walpole would have his readers believe. The age was
ripe for the reception of the marvellous.

The supernatural had, as we have seen, begun to find its way back
into poetry, in the work of Gray and Collins. In Macpherson's
_Ossian_, which was received with acclamation in 1760-3, the
mountains, heaths and lakes are haunted by shadowy, superstitious
fears. Dim-seen ghosts wail over the wastes. There is abundant
evidence that "authentic" stories of ghostly appearances were
heard with respect. Those who eagerly explored Walpole's Gothic
castle and who took pleasure in Miss Reeve's well-trained ghost,
had previously enjoyed the thrill of chimney corner legends. The
idea of the gigantic apparition was derived, no doubt, from the
old legend of the figure seen by Wallace on the field of battle.
The limbs, strewn carelessly about the staircase and the gallery
of the castle, belong to a giant, very like those who are worsted
by the heroes of popular story. Godwin, in an unusual flight of
fancy, amused himself by tracing a certain similitude between
_Caleb Williams_ and _Bluebeard_, between _Cloudesley_ and _The
Babes in the Wood_,[9] and planned a story, on the analogy of the
Sleeping Beauty, in which the hero was to have the faculty of
unexpectedly falling asleep for twenty, thirty, or a hundred

Mrs. Radcliffe, who, so far as we may judge, did not draw her
characters from the creatures of flesh and blood around her,
seems to have adopted some of the familiar figures of old story.
Emily's guardian, Montoni, in _The Mysteries of Udolpho_, like
the unscrupulous uncle in Godwin's _Cloudesley_, may well have
been descended from the wicked uncle of the folk tale. The cruel
stepmother is disguised as a haughty, scheming marchioness in
_The Sicilian Romance_. The ogre drops his club, assumes a veneer
of polite refinement and relies on the more gentlemanlike method
of the dagger and stiletto for gaining his ends. The banditti and
robbers who infest the countryside in Gothic fiction are time
honoured figures. Travellers in Thessaly in Apuleius' _Golden
Ass_, like the fugitives in Shelley's _Zastrozzi_ and _St.
Irvyne_, find themselves in robbers' caves. The Gothic castle,
suddenly encountered in a dark forest, is boldly transported from
fairyland and set down in Italy, Sicily or Spain. The chamber of
horrors, with its alarming array of scalps or skeletons, is
civilised beyond recognition and becomes the deserted wing of an
abbey, concealing nothing worse than one discarded wife,
emaciated and dispirited, but still alive. The ghost-story, which
Ludovico reads in the haunted chamber of Udolpho, is described by
Mrs. Radcliffe as a Provençal tale, but is in reality common to
the folklore of all countries. The restless ghost, who yearns for
the burial of his corpse, is as ubiquitous as the Wandering Jew.
In the _Iliad_ he appears as the shade of Patroclus, pleading
with Achilles for his funeral rites. According to a letter of the
younger Pliny,[11] he haunts a house in Athens, clanking his
chains. He is found in every land, in every age. His feminine
counterpart presented herself to Dickens' nurse requiring her
bones, which were under a glass-case, to be "interred with every
undertaking solemnity up to twenty-four pound ten, in another
particular place."[12] Melmoth the Wanderer, when he becomes the
wooer of Immalee, seems almost like a reincarnation of the Demon
Lover. The wandering ball of fire that illuminates the dusky
recesses of so many Gothic abbeys is but another manifestation of
the Fate-Moon, which shines, foreboding death, after Thorgunna's
funeral, in the Icelandic saga. The witchcraft and demonology
that attracted Scott and "Monk" Lewis, may be traced far beyond
Sinclair's _Satan's Invisible World Discovered_ (1685), Bovet's
_Pandemonium or the Devil's Cloyster Opened_ (1683), or Reginald
Scot's _Discovery of Witchcraft_ (1584) to Ulysses' invocation of
the spirits of the dead,[13] to the idylls of Theocritus and to
the Hebrew narrative of Saul's visit to the Cave of Endor. There
are incidents in _The Golden Ass_ as "horrid" as any of those
devised by the writers of Gothic romance. It would, indeed, be no
easy task to fashion scenes more terrifying than the mutilation
of Socrates in _The Golden Ass_, by the witch, who tears out his
heart and stops the wound with a sponge which falls out when he
stoops to drink at a river, or than the strange apparition of a
ragged, old woman who vanishes after leading the way to the room,
where the baker's corpse hangs behind the door. Though the title
assumes a special literary significance at the close of the
eighteenth century, the tale of terror appeals to deeply rooted
instincts, and belongs, therefore, to every age and clime.


To Horace Walpole, whose _Castle of Otranto_ was published on
Christmas Eve, 1764, must be assigned the honour of having
introduced the Gothic romance and of having made it fashionable.
Diffident as to the success of so "wild" a story in an age
devoted to good sense and reason, he sent forth his mediaeval
tale disguised as a translation from the Italian of "Onuphrio
Muralto," by William Marshall. It was only after it had been
received with enthusiasm that he confessed the authorship. As he
explained frankly in a letter to his friend Mason: "It is not
everybody that may in this country play the fool with
impunity."[14] That Walpole regarded his story merely as a
fanciful, amusing trifle is clear from the letter he wrote to
Miss Hannah More reproving her for putting so frantic a thing
into the hands of a Bristol milkwoman who wrote poetry in her
leisure hours.[15] _The Castle of Otranto_ was but another
manifestation of that admiration for the Gothic which had found
expression fourteen years earlier in his miniature castle at
Strawberry Hill, with its old armour and "lean windows fattened
with rich saints."[16] The word "Gothic" in the early eighteenth
century was used as a term of reproach. To Addison, Siena
Cathedral was but a "barbarous" building, which might have been a
miracle of architecture, had our forefathers "only been
instructed in the right way."[17] Pope in his _Preface to
Shakespeare_ admits the strength and majesty of the Gothic, but
deplores its irregularity. In _Letters on Chivalry and Romance_,
published two years before _The Castle of Otranto_, Hurd pleads
that Spenser's _Faerie Queene_ should be read and criticised as a
Gothic, not a classical, poem. He clearly recognises the right of
the Gothic to be judged by laws of its own. When the nineteenth
century is reached the epithet has lost all tinge of blame, and
has become entirely one of praise. From the time when he began to
build his castle, in 1750, Walpole's letters abound in references
to the Gothic, and he confesses once: "In the heretical corner of
my heart I adore the Gothic building."[18] At Strawberry Hill the
hall and staircase were his special delight and they probably
formed the background of that dream in which he saw a gigantic
hand in armour on the staircase of an ancient castle. When Dr.
Burney visited Walpole's home in 1786 he remarked on the striking
recollections of _The Castle of Otranto_, brought to mind by "the
deep shade in which some of his antique portraits were placed and
the lone sort of look of the unusually shaped apartments in which
they were hung."[19] We know how in idle moments Walpole loved to
brood on the picturesque past, and we can imagine his falling
asleep, after the arrival of a piece of armour for his
collection, with his head full of plans for the adornment of his
cherished castle. His story is but an expansion of this
dilettante's nightmare. His interest in things mediaeval was not
that of an antiquary, but rather that of an artist who loves
things old because of their age and beauty. In a delightfully gay
letter to his friend, George Montagu, referring flippantly to his
appointment as Deputy Ranger of Rockingham Forest, he writes,
after drawing a vivid picture of a "Robin Hood reformé":

"Visions, you know, have always been my pasture; and so
far from growing old enough to quarrel with their
emptiness, I almost think there is no wisdom comparable
to that of exchanging what is called the realities of
life for dreams. Old castles, old pictures, old
histories and the babble of old people make one live
back into centuries that cannot disappoint one. One
holds fast and surely what is past. The dead have
exhausted their power of deceiving - one can trust
Catherine of Medicis now. In short, you have opened a
new landscape to my fancy; and my lady Beaulieu will
oblige me as much as you, if she puts the long bow into
your hands. I don't know, but the idea may produce some
other _Castle of Otranto_."[20]

So Walpole came near to anticipating the greenwood scenes of
_Ivanhoe_. The decking and trappings of chivalry filled him with
boyish delight, and he found in the glitter and colour of the
middle ages a refuge from the prosaic dullness of the eighteenth
century. A visit from "a Luxembourg, a Lusignan and a Montfort"
awoke in his whimsical fancy a mental image of himself in the
guise of a mediaeval baron: "I never felt myself so much in _The
Castle of Otranto_. It sounded as if a company of noble crusaders
were come to sojourn with me before they embarked for the Holy
Land";[21] and when he heard of the marvellous adventures of a
large wolf who had caused a panic in Lower Languedoc, he was
reminded of the enchanted monster of old romance and declared
that, had he known of the creature earlier, it should have
appeared in _The Castle of Otranto_.[22] "I have taken to
astronomy," he declares on another occasion,

"now that the scale is enlarged enough to satisfy my
taste, who love gigantic ideas - do not be afraid; I am
not going to write a second part to _The Castle of
Otranto_, nor another account of the Patagonians who
inhabit the new Brobdingnag planet."[23]

These unstudied utterances reveal, perhaps more clearly than
Walpole's deliberate confessions about his book, the mood of
irresponsible, light-hearted gaiety in which he started on his
enterprise. If we may rely on Walpole's account of its
composition, _The Castle of Otranto_ was fashioned rapidly in a
white heat of excitement, but the creation of the story probably
cost him more effort than he would have us believe. The result,
at least, lacks spontaneity. We never feel for a moment that we
are living invisible amidst the characters, but we sit aloof like
Puck, thinking: "Lord, what fools these mortals be!" His
supernatural machinery is as undignified as the pantomime
properties of Jack the Giant-killer. The huge body scattered
piecemeal about the castle, the unwieldy sabre borne by a hundred
men, the helmet "tempestuously agitated," and even the "skeleton
in a hermit's cowl" are not only unalarming but mildly
ridiculous. Yet to the readers of his day the story was
captivating and entrancing. It satisfied a real craving for the
romantic and marvellous. The first edition of five hundred copies
was sold out in two months, and others followed rapidly. The
story was dramatised by Robert Jephson and produced at Covent
Garden Theatre under the title of _The Count of Narbonne_, with
an epilogue by Malone. It was staged again later in Dublin,
Kemble playing the title rôle. It was translated into French,
German and Italian. In England its success was immediate, though
several years elapsed before it was imitated. Gray, to whom the
story was first attributed, wrote of it in March, 1765: "It
engages our attention here (at Cambridge), makes some of us cry a
little, and all in general afraid to go to bed o' nights." Mason
praised it, and Walpole's letters refer repeatedly to the vogue
it enjoyed. This widespread popularity is an indication of the
eagerness with which readers of 1765 desired to escape from the
present and to revel for a time in strange, bygone centuries.
Although Walpole regarded the composition of his Gothic story as
a whim, his love of the past was shared by others of his
generation. Of this Macpherson's _Ossian_ (1760-3), Kurd's
_Letters on Chivalry and Romance_ (1762), and Percy's _Reliques_
(1765), are, each in its fashion, a sufficient proof. The
half-century from 1760 to 1810 showed remarkably definite signs
of a renewed interest in things written between 1100 and 1650,
which had been neglected for a century or more. _The Castle of
Otranto_, which was "an attempt to blend the marvellous of old
story with the natural of modern novels" is an early symptom of
this revulsion to the past; and it exercised a charm on Scott as
well as on Mrs. Radcliffe and her school. _The Castle of Otranto_
is significant, not because of its intrinsic merit, but because
of its power in shaping the destiny of the novel.

The outline of the plot is worth recording for the sake of
tracing ancestral likenesses when we reach the later romances.
The only son of Manfred - the villain of the piece - is discovered
on his wedding morning dashed to pieces beneath an enormous
helmet. Determined that his line shall not become extinct,
Manfred decides to divorce Hippolyta and marry Isabella, his
son's bride. To escape from her pursuer, Isabella takes flight
down a "subterraneous passage," where she is succoured by a
"peasant" Theodore, who bears a curious resemblance to a portrait
of the "good Alfonso" in the gallery of the castle. The servants
of the castle are alarmed at intervals by the sudden appearance
of massive pieces of armour in different parts of the building. A
clap of thunder, which shakes the castle to its foundations,
heralds the culmination of the story. A hundred men bear in a
huge sabre; and an apparition of the illustrious Alfonso - whose
portrait in the gallery once walks straight out of its
frame[24] - appears, "dilated to an immense magnitude,"[25] and
demands that Manfred shall surrender Otranto to the rightful
heir, Theodore, who has been duly identified by the mark of a
"bloody arrow." Alfonso, thus pacified, ascends into heaven,
where he is received into glory by St. Nicholas. As Matilda, who
was beloved of Theodore, has incidentally been slain by her
father, Theodore consoles himself with Isabella. Manfred and his
wife meekly retire to neighbouring convents. With this
anti-climax the story closes. To present the "dry bones" of a
romantic story is often misleading, but the method is perhaps
justifiable in the case of _The Castle of Otranto_, because
Walpole himself scorned embellishments and declared in his
grandiloquent fashion:

"If this air of the miraculous is excused, the reader
will find nothing else unworthy of his perusal. There
is no bombast, no similes, flowers, digressions or
unnecessary descriptions. Everything tends directly to
the catastrophe."[26]

But with all its faults _The Castle of Otranto_ did not fall
fruitless on the earth. The characters are mere puppets, yet we
meet the same types again and again in later Gothic romances.
Though Clara Reeve renounced such "obvious improbabilities" as a
ghost in a hermit's cowl and a walking picture, she was an
acknowledged disciple of Walpole, and, like him, made an
"interesting peasant" the hero of her story, _The Old English
Baron_. Jerome is the prototype of many a count disguised as
father confessor, Bianca the pattern of many a chattering
servant. The imprisoned wife reappears in countless romances,
including Mrs. Radcliffe's _Sicilian Romance_ (1790), and Mrs.
Roche's _Children of the Abbey_ (1798). The tyrannical father - no
new creation, however - became so inevitable a figure in fiction
that Jane Austen had to assure her readers that Mr. Morland "was
not in the least addicted to locking up his daughters," and Miss
Martha Buskbody, the mantua-maker of Gandercleugh, whom Jedediah
Cleishbotham ingeniously called to his aid in writing the
conclusion of _Old Mortality_, assured him, as the fruit of her
experience in reading through the stock of three circulating
libraries that, in a novel, young people may fall in love without
the countenance of their parents, "because it is essential to the
necessary intricacy of the story." But apart from his characters,
who are so colourless that they hardly hold our attention,
Walpole bequeathed to his successors a remarkable collection of
useful "properties." The background of his story is a Gothic
castle, singularly unenchanted it is true, but capable of being
invested by Mrs. Radcliffe with mysterious grandeur. Otranto
contains underground vaults, ill-fitting doors with rusty hinges,
easily extinguished lamps and a trap-door - objects trivial and
insignificant in Walpole's hands, but fraught with terrible
possibilities. Otranto would have fulfilled admirably the
requirements of Barrett's Cherubina, who, when looking for
lodgings demanded - to the indignation of a maidservant, who came
to the door - old pictures, tapestry, a spectre and creaking
hinges. Scott, writing in 1821, remarks:

"The apparition of the skeleton-hermit to the prince of
Vicenza was long accounted a masterpiece of the
horrible; but of late the valley of Jehosaphat could
hardly supply the dry bones necessary for the
exhibition of similar spectres."

But Cherubina, whose palate was jaded by a surfeit of the pungent
horrors of Walpole's successors, would probably have found _The
Castle of Otranto_ an insipid romance and would have lamented
that he did not make more effective use of his supernatural
machinery. His story offered hints and suggestions to those whose
greater gifts turned the materials he had marshalled to better
account, and he is to be honoured rather for what he instigated
others to perform than for what he actually accomplished himself.
_The Castle of Otranto_ was not intended as a serious
contribution to literature, but will always survive in literary
history as the ancestor of a thriving race of romances.

More than ten years before the publication of _The Castle of
Otranto_, Smollett, in his _Adventures of Ferdinand, Count
Fathom_, had chanced upon the devices employed later in the tale
of terror. The tremors of fear to which his rascally hero is
subjected lend the spice of alarm to what might have been but a
monotonous record of villainy. Smollett depicts skilfully the
imaginary terrors created by darkness and solitude. As the Count
travels through the forest:

"The darkness of the night, the silence and solitude of
the place, the indistinct images of the trees that
appeared on every side, stretching their extravagant
arms athwart the gloom, conspired, with the dejection
of spirits occasioned by his loss, to disturb his fancy
and raise strange phantoms in his imagination. Although
he was not naturally superstitious, his mind began to
be invaded with an awful horror that gradually
prevailed over all the consolations of reason and
philosophy; nor was his heart free from the terrors of
assassination. In order to dissipate these agreeable
reveries, he had recourse to the conversation of his
guide, by whom he was entertained with the history of
divers travellers who had been robbed and murdered by
ruffians, whose retreat was in the recesses of that
very wood."[27]

The sighing of the trees, thunder and sudden flashes of lightning
add to the horror of a journey, which resembles Mrs. Radcliffe's
description of Emily's approach to Udolpho. When Count Fathom
takes refuge in a robber's hut, he discovers in his room, which
has no bolt on the inside of the door, the body of a recently
murdered man, concealed beneath some bundles of straw. Effecting
his escape by placing the corpse in his own bed to deceive the
robbers, the count is mistaken for a phantom by the old woman who
waits upon him. In carrying out his designs upon Celinda, the
count aggravates her natural timidity by relating dismal stories
of omens and apparitions, and then groans piteously outside her

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