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A History of English Romanticism in the Eighteenth

As Otranto reduced to reason and probability


One

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

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

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


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