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breathless, she sunk on the carpet. Lopez stood aghast, his
countenance was of a deadly pale, a glass of wine he had in his
hand he let fall to the floor, while he articulated: "What an
alteration in that once beauteous countenance!"

Miss Wilkinson's sentences stagger and lurch uncertainly, but she
delights in similes and other ornaments of style:

"Adeline Barnett was fair as a lily, tall as the pine,
her fine dark eyes sparkling as diamonds, and she moved
with the majestic air of a goddess, but pride and
ambition appeared on the brow of this famed maiden, and
destroying the effect of her charms."

She is, in fact, more addicted to "gramarye" than to
"grammar" - the fault with which Byron, in a note to _English
Bards and Scotch Reviewers_, charged the hero and heroine of
Scott's _Lay of the Last Minstrel_. Her heroes do not merely
love, they are "enamoured to a romantic degree." Her arbours are
"composed of jasmine, white rose, and other odoriferous sweets of
Flora." She sprinkles French phrases with an airy nonchalance
worthy of the Lady Hysterica Belamour, whose memoirs are included
in Barrett's _Heroine_. Her duchesses "figure away with
_éclat_" - "a party _quarrie_ assemble at their _dejeune_." It is
noteworthy that by 1820 even Miss Wilkinson had learnt to despise
the spectres in whom she had gloried during her amazing career.
In _The Spectre of Lanmere Abbey_ (1820) the ghost is
ignominiously exposed, and proved to be "a tall figure dressed in
white, and a long, transparent veil flowing over her whole
figure," while the heroine Amelia speaks almost in the accents of
Catherine Morland:

"My governess has been affirming that there are Gothic
buildings without spectres or legends of a ghostly
nature attached to them; now, what is a castle or abbey
worth without such appendage?; do tell me candidly, are
none of the turrets of your old family mansion in
Monmouth rendered thus terrific by some unquiet,
wandering spirit?, dare the peasantry pass it after
twilight, or if they are forced into that temerity, do
not their teeth chatter, their hair stand erect and
their poor knees knock together?"

That Miss Wilkinson, who, for twenty years, had conscientiously
striven to chill her readers' blood, should be compelled at last
to turn round and gibe at her own spectres, reveals into what a
piteous plight the novel of terror had fallen. When even the
enchantress disavowed her belief in them, the ghosts must surely
have fled shrieking and affrighted and thought never more to
raise their diminished heads.

From a medley of novels, similar to those of Miss Wilkinson,
Scott singled out for commendation _The Fatal Revenge or The
Family of Montorio_, by "Jasper Denis Murphy," or the Rev.
Charles Robert Maturin. Amid the chaos of horror into which
Maturin hurls his readers, Scott shrewdly discerned the spirit
and animation which, though often misdirected, pervade his whole
work. The story is but a grotesque distortion of life, yet Scott
found himself "insensibly involved in the perusal and at times
impressed with no common degree of respect for the powers of the
author." His generous estimate of Maturin's gifts and his
prediction of future success is the more impressive, because _The
Fatal Revenge_ undeniably belongs to the very class of novels he
was ridiculing.

Maturin was an eccentric Irish clergyman, who diverted himself by
weaving romances and constructing tragedies. He loved to mingle
with the gay and frivolous; he affected foppish attire, and
prided himself on his exceptional skill in dancing. His
indulgence in literary work was probably but another expression
of his longing to escape from the strait and narrow way
prescribed for a Protestant clergyman. Wild anecdotes are told of
his idiosyncrasies.[58] He preferred to compose his stories in a
room full of people, and he found a noisy argument especially
invigorating. To prevent himself from taking part in the
conversation, he used to cover his mouth with paste composed of
flour and water. Sometimes, we are told, he would wear a red
wafer upon his brow, as a signal that he was enduring the throes
of literary composition and expected forbearance and
consideration. It is said that he once missed preferment in the
church because he absentmindedly interviewed his prospective
vicar with his head bristling with quills like a porcupine. He is
said to have insisted on his wife's using rouge though she had
naturally a high colour, and to have gone fishing in a
resplendent blue coat and silk stockings. Such was the flamboyant
personality of the man whose first novel attracted the kindly
attention of Scott. His oddities, which would have rejoiced the
heart of Dickens, are not without significance in a study of his
literary work, for his love of emphasis and exaggeration are
reflected in both the substance and style of his novels.

Maturin's writings fall into three periods. Of his three early
novels, _The Fatal Revenge or The Family of Montorio_ (1807),
_The Wild Irish Boy_ (1808) and _The Milesian Chief_ (1812), the
first only is a tale of horror. _The Wild Irish Boy_ is a
domestic story, and forms a suitable companion for Lady Morgan's
_Wild Irish Girl_. _The Milesian Chief_ is a historical novel,
and is now chiefly remembered on account of the likeness of the
opening chapters to Scott's _Bride of Lammermoor_ (1819). After
the publication of these novels, Maturin turned his attention to
the stage. His first tragedy, _Bertram_ (1816), received the
encouragement of Scott and Byron. The character of Bertram is
modelled on that of Schiller's robber-chief, Karl von Moor, who
captivated the imagination of Coleridge himself, and who is
reflected in _Osorio_ and perhaps in Mrs. Radcliffe's villains.
The action of the melodrama moves swiftly, and abounds in the
"moving situations" Maturin loved to handle. _Bertram_ was
succeeded in 1817 by _Manuel_, and in 1819 by _Fredolfo_.
Meanwhile Maturin had returned to novel-writing. _Women, or Pour
et Contre_, with its lifelike sketches of Puritanical society and
clever characterisation, appeared in 1818, and was favourably
reviewed by Scott.[59] _Melmoth the Wanderer_, Maturin's
masterpiece, was published in 1820, and was succeeded in 1824 by
his last work, _The Albigenses_, a historical romance, following
Scott's design rather than that of Mrs. Radcliffe.

In reviewing _The Family of Montorio_, Scott prudently attempted
only a brief survey of the plot, and forsook Maturin's sequence
of events. In his sketch the outline of the story is
comparatively clear. In the novel itself we wander, bewildered,
baffled and distracted through labyrinthine mazes. No Ariadne
awaits on the threshold with the magic ball of twine to guide us
through the complicated windings. We stumble along blind alleys
desperately retracing our weary steps, and, after stumbling alone
and unaided to the very end, reach the darkly concealed clue when
it has ceased to be either of use or of interest to us. Many an
adventurer must have lain down, dispirited and exhausted, without
ever reaching his distant and elusive goal. Disentangled and
simplified almost beyond recognition, the story runs thus: In
1670, Count Orazio and his younger brother are the sole
representatives of the family of Montorio. Orazio has married
Erminia di Vivaldi, whom he loves devotedly. She does not return
his love. The younger brother determines to take advantage of
this circumstance to gain the title and estates for himself, and
succeeds in arousing Orazio's jealousy against a young officer,
Verdoni, to whom Erminia had formerly been deeply attached. In a
violent passion Orazio slays Verdoni before the eyes of Erminia,
who falls dead at his feet. This part of his design accomplished,
the younger brother plots to murder Orazio himself, who, however,
discovers the innocence of his wife and the hideous perfidy of
his brother. Temporarily bereft of reason, Orazio sojourns alone
on a desert island. When his senses are restored, he resolves to
devote the rest of his life to vengeance. For fifteen years he
buries himself in occult studies, and when his diabolical schemes
have matured, returns, disguised as the monk Schemoli, to the
scene of the murder. He becomes confessor to his brother, who has
assumed the title and estates. It is his intention to compel the
Count's sons, Annibal and Ippolito, to murder their father. Death
at the hands of parricides seems to him the only appropriate
catastrophe for the Count's career of infamy. To reconcile the
two victims - Annibal and Ippolito - to their task, he "relies
mainly on the doctrine of fatalism." The most complex and
ingenious "machinery" is used to work upon their superstitious
feelings. No device is too tortuous if it aid his purpose. Even
the pressure of the Inquisition is brought to bear on one of the
brothers. Each, after protracted agony, submits to his destiny,
and the swords of the two brothers meet in the Count's body. When
the murder is safely accomplished, it is proved that Annibal and
Ippolito are the sons, not of the Count, but of Schemoli and
Erminia. By the irony of fate the knowledge comes too late for
Schemoli to save his children from the crime. At the close of a
lengthy trial the two brothers are released, but deprived of
their lands. Ultimately they die fighting in the siege of
Barcelona. Schemoli perishes, in the approved Gothic manner, by
self-administered poison. Intertwined with the main theme of
Schemoli's fatal revenge are the love-stories of the two
brothers. Rosolia, a nun, who seems to have been acquainted with
Shakespeare's comedies, disguises herself as a page, and devotes
her life to the service of Ippolito and to the composition of
sentimental verses. She only reveals her sex just before her
death, though we have guessed it from her first appearance.
Ildefonsa, who is beloved of Annibal, has been forced into a
convent against her will - a fate almost inevitable in the realm
of Gothic romance. When letters are received authorising her
release from the vows, a pitiless mother-superior reports that
she is dead. She is immured, but an earthquake sets her free, for
Maturin will move heaven and earth to effect his purposes. The
ill-fated maiden dies shortly afterwards. Ere the close it proves
that Ildefonsa was the daughter of Erminia, who had been secretly
married to Verdoni before her union with Orazio. Such is the
skeleton of Maturin's story, when its scattered members have been
patiently collected and fitted together. The impressive figure of
Schemoli, with his unholy power of fascinating his reluctant
accomplices, lends to the book the only sort of unity it
possesses. But even he fails to arouse a sense of fear strong
enough to fix our attention to so wandering a story. Like the
doomed brothers, we drift dejectedly through inexplicable
terrors, and we re-echo with fervour Annibal's dolorous cry:

"Why should I be shut up in this house of horrors to
deal with spirits and damned things and the secrets of
the infernal world while there are so many paths open
to pleasure, the varieties of human intercourse and the
enjoyment of life?"

Maturin, a disciple of Mrs. Radcliffe, feels it his duty to
explain away the apparently miraculous incidents in his story,
but he lacks the persevering ingenuity that partly compensates
for her frauds. On a single page he calmly discloses secrets
which have harassed us for four volumes, and his long-deferred
explanations are paltry and incredible. The bleeding figures that
wrought so painfully on the sensitive nerves of Ippolito are
merely waxen images that spout blood automatically.
Disappearances and reappearances, which seemed supernatural, are
simply effected by private exits and entrances. Other startling
phenomena are accounted for in the same trivial fashion.

Maturin seems to have crowded into his story nearly every
character and incident that had been employed in earlier Gothic
romances. Schemoli is a remarkably faithful portrait of Mrs.
Radcliffe's Schedoni. From beneath his cowl flash the piercing
eyes, whose very glance will daunt the bravest heart; his sallow
visage is furrowed with the traces of bygone passions; he shuns
society, and is dreaded by his associates. The oppressed maiden,
driven into a nunnery, drugged and immured, the ambitious
countess, the devoted, loquacious servant, the inhuman
abbess - all play their accustomed parts. The background shifts
from the robber's den to the ruined chapel, from the castle vault
to the dungeon of the Inquisition, each scene being admirably
suited to the situation contrived, or the emotion displayed.
Maturin had accurately inspected the passages and trap-doors of
Otranto. No item, not a rusty lock, not a creaking hinge, had
escaped his vigilant eye. He knew intimately every nook and
cranny of Mrs. Radcliffe's Gothic abbeys. He had viewed with
trepidation their blood-stained floors, their skeletons and
corpses, and had carefully calculated the psychological effect of
these properties. He had gazed with starting eye on the lurid
horrors of "Monk" Lewis, and had carried away impressions so
distinct that he, perhaps unwittingly, transferred them to the
pages of his own story. But Maturin's reading was not strictly
confined to the school of terror. He had studied Shakespeare's
tragedies, and these may have suggested to him the idea of
enhancing the interest of his story by dissecting human motive
and describing passionate feeling. In depicting the remorse of
the count and his wife Zenobia, who had committed a murder to
gratify their ambition, and who are tormented by ugly dreams,
Maturin inevitably draws from _Macbeth_. Zenobia, the stronger
character, reviles her husband for indulging in sickly fancies
and strives to embolden him:

"Like a child you run from a mask you have yourself painted."

He replies in a free paraphrase of _Hamlet_:

"It is this cursed domestic sensibility of guilt that makes
of us all."

Maturin is distinguished from the incompetent horde of
romance-writers, whom Scott condemned, by the powerful eloquence
of his style and by his ability to analyse emotion, to write as
if he himself were swayed by the feeling he describes. His insane
extravagances have at least the virtue that they come flaming hot
from an excited imagination. The passage quoted by
Scott - Orazio's attempt to depict his state of mind after he had
heard of his brother's perfidy - may serve to illustrate the force
and vigour of his language:

"Oh! that midnight darkness of the soul in which it
seeks for something whose loss has carried away every
sense but one of utter and desolate deprivation; in
which it traverses leagues in motion and worlds in
thought without consciousness of relief, yet with a
dread of pausing. I had nothing to seek, nothing to
recover; the whole world could not restore me an atom,
could not show me again a glimpse of what I had been or
lost, yet I rushed on as if the next step would reach
shelter and peace."

_Melmoth the Wanderer_ has found many admirers. It fascinated
Rossetti,[60] Thackeray[61] and Miss Mitford.[62] It was praised
by Balzac, who wrote a satirical sequel - _Melmoth Reconcilié à
L'Eglise_ (1835), and by Baudelaire, and exercised a considerable
influence on French literature.[63] It consists of a series of
tales, strung together in a complicated fashion. In each tale the
Wanderer, who has bartered his soul in return for prolonged life,
may, if he can, persuade someone to take the bargain off his
hands.[64] He visits those who are plunged in despair. His
approach is heralded by strange music, and his eyes have a
preternatural lustre that terrifies his victims. No one will
agree to his "incommunicable condition."

The bird's-eye view of an Edinburgh Reviewer who described
_Melmoth_ as "the sacrifice of Genius in the Temple of False
Taste," will give some idea of the bewildering variety of its

"His hero is a modern Faustus, who has bartered his
soul with the powers of darkness for protracted life
and unlimited worldly enjoyment; his heroine, a species
of insular goddess, a virgin Calypso of the Indian
Ocean, who, amid flowers and foliage, lives upon figs
and tamarinds, associates with peacocks and monkeys, is
worshipped by the occasional visitants of her island,
finds her way into Spain where she is married to the
aforesaid hero by the hand of a dead hermit, the ghost
of a murdered domestic being the witness of her
nuptials; and finally dies in a dungeon of the
Inquisition at Madrid. To complete this phantasmagoric
exhibition, we are presented with sybils and misers,
parricides, maniacs in abundance, monks with scourges
pursuing a naked youth streaming with blood;
subterranean Jews surrounded by the skeletons of their
wives and children; lovers blasted by lightning, Irish
hags, Spanish grandees, shipwrecks, caverns, Donna
Claras and Donna Isidoras - all exposed to each other in
violent and glaring contrast and all their adventures
narrated with the same undeviating display of turgid,
vehement, and painfully elaborated language."[65]

This breathless sentence gives some conception of the delirious
imagery of Maturin's romance, but the book is worthy of a more
respectful, unhurried survey. _Melmoth_ shows a distinct advance
on _Montorio_ in constructive power. Each separate story is
perfectly clear and easy to follow, in spite of the elaborate
interlacing. The romance opens with the death of a miser in a
desolate Irish farmstead, with harpies clustering at his bedside.
His nephew and heir, John Melmoth, is adjured to destroy a
certain manuscript and a portrait of an ancestor with eyes "such
as one feels they wish they had never seen and feels they can
never forget." Alone at midnight, John Melmoth reads the
manuscript, which is reputed to have been written by Stanton, an
English traveller in Spain, about 1676. The document relates a
startling story of a mysterious Englishman who appears at a
Spanish wedding with disastrous consequences, and reappears
before Stanton in a madhouse offering release on dreadful
conditions. After reading it, John Melmoth decides to burn the
family portrait. He is visited by a sinister form, who proves
that he is no figment of the imagination by leaving black and
blue marks on his relative's wrist. The next night a ship is
wrecked in a storm. The Wanderer appears, and mocks the victims
with fiendish mirth. The sole survivor, Don Alonzo Monçada,
unfolds his story to John Melmoth. The son of a great duke, he
has been forced to become a monk to save his mother's honour. He
dwells with the excruciating detail in which Maturin is inclined
to revel, on the horrors of Spanish monasteries. Escaping through
a subterranean passage, he is guided by a parricide, who
incidentally tells him a loathsome story of two immured lovers.
His plan of flight is foiled, and he is borne off to the dungeons
of the Inquisition. Here the Wanderer, who has a miraculous power
to enter where he will, offers, on the ineffable condition, to
procure his freedom. Monçada repudiates the temptation, effects
his own escape during a great fire, and catches sight of the
stranger on the summit of a burning building. He takes refuge
with a Jew, but, to evade the vigilance of the Inquisitors,
disappears suddenly down an underground passage, where he finds
Adonijah, another Jew, who obligingly employs him as an
amanuensis, and sets him to copy a manuscript. This gives Maturin
the opportunity, for which he has been waiting, to introduce his
"Tale of the Indian." The story of Immalee, who is visited on her
desert island by the Wanderer in the guise of a lover as well as
a tempter, forms the most memorable part of _Melmoth_. In the
other stories the stranger has been a taciturn creature, relying
on the lustre of his eyes rather than on his powers of eloquence
to win over his victims. To Immalee he pours forth floods of
rhetoric on the sins and follies of mankind. Had she not been one
of Rousseau's children of nature, and so innocent alike of a
knowledge of Shakespeare and of the fault of impatience, she
would surely have exclaimed: "If thou hast news, I prithee
deliver them like a man of this world." When Immalee is
transported to Spain and reassumes her baptismal name of Isidora,
Melmoth follows her and their conversations are continued at dead
of night through the lattice. Here they discourse on the real
nature of love. At length the gloomy lover persuades Isidora to
marry him. Their midnight nuptials take place against a weird
background. By a narrow, precipitous path they approach the
ruined chapel, and are united by a hand "as cold as that of
death." Meanwhile, Don Francisco, Isidora's father, on his way
home, spends the night at an inn, where a stranger insists on
telling him "The Tale of Guzman." In this tale the tempter visits
a father whose family is starving, but who resists the lure of
wealth. Maturin portrays with extraordinary power the
deterioration in the character of an old man Walberg, through the
effects of poverty. At the close of the narration Don Francisco
falls into a deep slumber, but is sternly awakened by a stranger
with an awful eye, who insists on becoming his fellow traveller,
and on telling, in defiance of protests, yet another story. The
prologue to the Lover's Tale is almost Chaucerian in its humour:

"It was with the utmost effort of his mixed politeness
and fear that he prepared himself to listen to the
tale, which the stranger had frequently amid their
miscellaneous conversation, alluded to, and showed an
evident anxiety to relate. These allusions were
attended with unpleasant reminiscences to the
hearer - but he saw that it was to be, and armed himself
as best he might with courage to hear. 'I would not
intrude on you, Senhor,' says the stranger, 'with a
narrative in which you can feel but little interest,
were I not conscious that its narration may operate as
a warning, the most awful, salutary and efficacious to

At this veiled hint Don Francisco discharges a volley of oaths,
but he is silenced completely by the smile of the stranger - "that
spoke bitterer and darker things than the fiercest frown that
ever wrinkled the features of man." After this he cannot choose
but hear, and the stranger seizes his opportunity to begin an
uncommonly dull story, connected with a Shropshire family and
intermingled with historical events. In this tale the Wanderer
appears to a girl whose lover has lost his reason, and offers to
restore him if she will accept his conditions. Once more the
tempter is foiled. The story meanders so sluggishly that our
sympathies are with Don Francisco, and we cannot help wishing
that he had adopted more drastic measures to quieten the
insistent stranger. At the conclusion Francisco mutters

"It is inconceivable to me how this person forces
himself on my company, harasses me with tales that have
no more application to me than the legend of the Cid,
and may be as apocryphal as the ballad of
Roncesvalles - "

but yet the stranger has not finished. He proceeds to tell him a
tale in which he will feel a peculiar interest, that of Isidora,
his own daughter, and finally urges him to hasten to her rescue.
Don Francisco wanders by easy stages to Madrid, and, on his
arrival, marries Isidora against her will to Montilla. Melmoth,
according to promise, appears at the wedding. The bridegroom is
slain. Isidora, with Melmoth's child, ends her days in the
dungeons of the Inquisition, murmuring: "Paradise! will he be
there?" So far as one may judge from the close of the story, it
seems not.

Monçada and John Melmoth, whom we left, at the beginning of the
romance, in Ireland, are revisited by the Wanderer, whose time on
earth has at last run out. He confesses his failure: "I have
traversed the world in the search, and no one to gain that world,
would lose his own soul." His words remind us of the text of the
sermon which suggested to Maturin the idea of the romance. Like
the companions of Dr. Faustus, Melmoth and Monçada hear terrible
sounds from the room of the Wanderer in the last throes of agony.
The next morning the room is empty; but, following a track to the
sea-cliffs, they see, on a crag beneath, the kerchief the

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Online LibraryEdith BirkheadThe Tale of Terror A Study of the Gothic Romance → online text (page 7 of 19)