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The Tales of Terror.
books. Do they, as a whole (those of the repre
sentative writers, I mean, not the ridiculous host of Away back in the days when Poetry had dropped imitators who turned the whole school into a her wings and was walking with orderly tread, when laughing stock), do they succeed in stimulating us Pope and his successors were peopling Windsor to a mental state of fearsome delight? This is the Forest with classical gods and fauna, two men fell only fair standard by which to judge this departa-dreaming, a vagary not often indulged in during ment of literature. What does it matter that the that unshaded glare of Augustan daylight. And heroes are sticks and the heroines dolls? It was the thrush in Thompson's heart sent so sweet a not to create character that Mrs. Radcliffe wrote. song thrilling out through that weary, conventional What difference if we are accompanied through old world that other birds stirred in their nests and desolate castles and vaults by weeping Emilys and joined the strain, while Walpole's Will-o'-the-wisp fainting Amelias? They are the merest fringe of vision likewise led him out from the trim garden- the story—the pivots on which it turns. The real plots of the Classicists into a wild forest where he heroine is you yourself—the life and heart of the and his followers beat out a little tangled by-path story is the thrill of your own sensation as you forgotten now for many a day, but worthy of kinder shiver at the storm which moans at the window and treatment, if only for the splashes of sunshine which rustles the loose tapestry. surprise us here and there, and for the fact that, far Another fact must be duly considered. Our on in its windings, two fair spirits step out from its point of view must be correct if we expect to enjoy mazes into the golden highway over which the the terror of these novels. Any one who looks forGreat march on into immortality. It is down this ward to the palpable excitement of lying awake all old, neglected wood-path that we will wander for a night shivering at the horror portrayed will be diswhile.
appointed. More often than not we shall see no Heine speaks somewhere of "that inexplicable ghost at all, and we should realize this fact before mysterious shudder which seizes one in reading we begin. We should approach these terror-tales in these apparently harmless tales." He questions precisely the same mood in which parties of gay "whence does it arise if not from some half-uncon young people plan invasions of "haunted houses." scious undercurrent of our being, to which in Such a party of girls started one night through the definite element the author has appealed?” Dunlop old Tayloe mansion down on Nineteenth Street near speaks more explicitly. He says, "There exists in the river. Of course we knew beforehand that it every heart at all susceptible to the influence of the was empty of all but ourselves; and yet—the mysimagination, a certain superstitious dread of the tery of it as we stole along with lighted tapers and world unknown which easily suggests the ideas of hushed voices! What was that rustle just behind commerce with that world.” Now we all know how us? And that shadow over there in the far corner the Classicists had laughed to scorn any tendency of the desolate old banqueting hall, where years and toward fanciful superstition. They viewed things years ago a guest once murdered his host as they in clear daylight. An ingrained tendency of the sat at wine? And that curious tap-tap-tap which human soul cannot, however, be eternally snubbed; followed our hushed steps steadily down the spiral and in the general emancipation from the iron rule staircase! Compared to this subtle tingling of of the Classicists the superstitious soul-fiber, which nerve and brain the intrusion of a real ghost would the most prosaic of us at times recognize, claimed have seemed vulgarly palpable. Had we seen a its right to stretch itself after its long repression. sheeted figure actually stalking through the hall, But how could a ghost trail its robe through the we should at once have suspected a mischievous plain, matter-of-fact world of Augustan sunshine? brother or two. Instinctively the mind flew back to the dear old It must not be supposed, however, that the fear days of mediaeval darkness when churchyards attendant upon supernatural occurrences is the only yawned unchallenged, and an inheritance of phan sort which our writers succeed in arousing. It is toms was the proud possession of any family worth astonishing through what a range they play upon knowing. And thus it was that the spirit of feudal the soul's susceptibility to terror. The emotions to days laid hold of Horace Walpole, and found ex which our spirits are subject during a perusal of pression in his Castles both of Strawberry Hill and these books vary from the mere thrill of weird of “Otranto."
pleasure inspired by "Monk" Lewis' "Spirit of the One point should be specially borne in mind, the Frozen Ocean," to the horror of physical repulsion neglect of which has led to much false criticism. occasioned by the brute violence of Maturin's mob The distinct appeal to the superstitious element in scene. The Inquisition, convent horrors, the foulour souls, this power to arouse in us that "inex ness of prison and hospital, the ravages of tempest plicable mysterious shudder" of which Heine and violent men, alike stir our susceptibilities of fear speaks, is the test by which we must judge these and pity. These material terrors, however, are
commonly subsidiary to the main purpose. They reception of this absurd book shows more effecare intended to subdue the soul of hero and reader tively than any other symptom the growing eageralike into tremulous readiness for the ghostly ex ness of the people for escape from the matter-of-fact periences. We shall see later how this artistic sub and commonplace; while the delight with which servience is sometimes violated by the brutality of even Gray welcomed its very clumsy ghost demonLewis and the morbidness of Maturin. Likewise strates conslusively the most significant fact that we shall see how the terror is furnished largely by Literature itself was weary of the cold daylight so the dangers and horrors of adventure and physical long reflected on its pages. phenomena to the almost total exclusion of the The preface to this pioneer novel of Walpole's supernatural. The omission of this seemingly es contains, among other interesting things, a statesential ingredient, however, does not at all exclude ment of the author's intention to produce a work these novels from the Terror Class, since it is evi which will unite features of the mediaeval Rodently omitted with the greatest regret by the mances of Chivalry with those of modern novels. writers, who, fully in sympathy with the spirit of In this ambitious endeavor Walpole and his folthe other terrorists, are manifestly pining for a lowers failed most signally. The adventures of the ghost or two. The supernatural is omitted only in unfortunate Matilda in "Otranto" certainly do not obedience to a stern exigency of the occasion, smack of modern life; while a glance into “Huon of which exigency will be later discussed in its con Burgundy,” for instance, makes it impossible for nection.
us to regard Walpole's resolution seriously. A The novels of the Terror School will divide them ponderous magic helmet dashed down at inconselves, for our purpose, into three classes: First, venient moments is a poor substitute for the enthe so-called Conventional novels beginning with chantment, airy as thistle-down, which floats Walpole and culminating in Mrs. Radcliffe. through mediaeval lore. In the one, Oberon's Second, the Reactionary novels, such as Beckford's fairies dance through elf-charmed woods. In the “Vathek” and Brown's "Wieland.” Third, the other, sheeted ghosts stalk through vaulted dungerm of the Historical novel, such as Leland's geons. The Romances are bewitched; the Tales "Longsword" and Lee's "Recess."
are haunted. It is well at this point to emphasize the fact that Again, the moral tone is different. In the Rowe have, in this paper, limited ourselves either to mances the hero indulges in the most shocking in the few great novelists of this school, or to those trigues, generally with the wife of his friend or relarepresentative members of it who show some dis tive. The maiden woos the favored knight with the tinct tendency conducive to its general evolution. utmost candor, even arranging little games of chess With imitators, even so successful a one as Roche, for the most scandalizing stakes. At all these somewe are compelled through lack of space to have what appalling love episodes the author and all connothing to do. We must even omit with regret cerned look on apparently with the most placid apfrom the second section brilliant a success as
proval. In the Tales, on the other hand, we shall Mrs. Shelley's “Frankenstein,” since its distinctly see that the moral tone is on the whole high. reactionary tone had been anticipated by writers The styles of these two departments of literature necessarily discussed.
are strikingly alike. The Romance runs along like
a child's fairy tale with an epic simplicity. The THE CONVENTIONAL NOVEL.
knight starts out any morning knowing that he may We will first deal with the Conventional Novels. be turned into a dwarf or a dragon or a dozen difIt is interesting to note that Horace Walpole's re ferent things before night. He takes it as a matter action of feeling toward things mediaeval was as of course. So does his chronicler. Neither of timorously manifested in literary form as were all them troubles himself in the very least as to whether other tendencies toward emancipation from classical
the victim deserves such a fate. There is too much fetters. He did, indeed, make one bold break in the marvel still ahead for much reflection. The style of architectural line by the building of his Gothic the Tales, on the other hand, is labored and self-conCastle at Strawberry Hill. The summer whim of a scious. Through all the cavalier's adventures the man like Walpole, however, could not challenge shadow of his creator stalks beside him. The severe criticism. It was quite another matter to mental attitude of the early chronicler imparts a join himself formally with the budding literary
charm to his work which his imitator completely sect of Romanticists. It was years, therefore, be
lacks. He does not care at all how his hero appears. fore he ventured to dream his castle of Strawberry Neither does his hero. This lack of self-consciousHill into "Otranto," and even then he published it ness imparts to him the grace of a rollicking child; as a manuscript he had found by chance, and, until and we are equally pleased at the vociferous abanits success was assured, refused to acknowledge his don with which the redoubtable Huon, caught in paternity to this wild-brain child. The enthusiastic the enchanted forest, sobs out his fear of the elf
Oberon, and with the delightful pluck with which particular occasion, have made her usual preparahe afterwards accosts that fairy. The heroes of tions for bed. But that is not the point. The situaWalpole and Radcliffe would have scorned any tion is saved. The ensuing scene proceeds as desuch exhibition of weakness. At the approach of corously as an afternoon tea. Wandering through danger they strike an attitude, call on God and their these pages we watch many a sweetheart borne by lady, and plunge into it, looking around immedi gallant cavalier from the midst of flaming, falling ately for approval. Personally, we prefer Huon's rafters; but never does the author fail to take time panic to Vivaldi's posing. But one must read for to assure us, as in “Deloraine,” of the scrupulous himself the old Romancers to perceive how entirely care with which she has managed to complete her Walpole and his followers failed in this portion of toilet.
toilet. Not always in her right mind, she is invaritheir task. Their work no more resembles their ably clothed. model than blood-stained armor resembles airy Not content, however, with allowing these models gauze-or restless ghosts, dancing fairies-or dun of propriety to impress their own lesson, the author geon horrors, moonlit witchery.
is constantly on hand with precept upon precept. Before tracing through these Conventional Ter There is one place in “Deloraine," where Godwin ror Tales their all-important element—that of the actually leaves a girl whirling over the edge of a supernatural-and pointing out certain individual precipice, presumably to describe circles in midair, peculiarities of each representative novelist, we will while he dilates for several pages on the advantage touch a moment upon two characteristics of the of self-control under such circumstances. whole class. First, the stilted moral tone; second, In turning to our second point, that of the stock the stock characters. Concerning the first point, characters with their inevitable result of wire-pulled we will not pause over the fact that virtue is painted plot, we are reminded of Pope's recipe for an epic very white indeed and vice very black. The perse- poem-—"Take a storm, a dream, six battles, three cuted maiden and the heavy villain are familiar to sacrifices, funeral games, a dozen gods in two diviall readers. We would rather call attention to the sions, shake together until there arises the froth manner in which our authors strive to triple-guard of a lofty style.” We might follow his method and our morality by saving even our notions of conven give a formula for the production of a Conventional propriety from the slightest shock. They tional Terror Tale—a storm, a ghost, a maiden, a chaperone us and their characters with the utmost castle. In other words, there are certain elements strictness. Mrs. Radcliffe is a very Dame Grundy which must enter into a story of this kind. They are in this respect. She, like Walpole and like her pre as necessary as lettuce, vinegar, oil and pepper to decessors, is constantly haunted by fear of un salad. There may or may not be chicken or seemly situations. One ludicrous incident will shrimps, but the foundation remains the same. illustrate many. In "Udolpho,” in the midnight These ingredients, however, are mixed in various gloom, Emily's persecutor crept up to her turret proportions and forms. Sometimes they are poured chamber on ill designs intent. The situation is in en masse, sometimes the merest flavor is percepcleverly worked up. A tremor of terror is on us, tible. Take the marplotting parent, for instance. as the villain steals softly up through vaulted cor He is not always the maiden's father saying, "Girl, ridor and spiral staircase. As we think of the behold your future lord,” and pointing to some maiden lying white-robed and unconscious in the despicable specimen of humanity. Sometimes, as in canopied bed, we long madly for some miraculous “The Albigenses,” this inconvenient relative has appearance of the faithful Valancourt. Slowly the been deceased for many years, but has complicated recreant knight steals up through the last spiral things for the young couple by imposing on his instaircase to the maiden's door. He tries the latch! fant son the amiable vow of exterminating root and It yields! Good heavens! Will Valancourt get branch the family of his hereditary enemy. This is there in time? The villain creeps along through eminently embarrassing for Paladour, who disthe dim apartment, his distorted shadow crouching covers on his wedding night that his beautiful bride behind him. He has reached the bed, he has is the sole survivor of his father's foe. He avoids pushed aside the curtains. Ye gods! What hap- his little task by plunging the dagger into his own pens now? Does Emily, awakening, spring to her heart in the presence of his beloved, who at once feet and stand before him like a strong white angel, follows his example by stabbing herself. They are causing him to crouch and quiver before the august found bathed in gore, and dreadful confusion englory of her womanhood? Not at all. At this over sues. Both survive, however, but the vow still whelming moment Mrs. Radcliffe steps forward holds Paladour, whose wife, whom he thinks dead, and gravely announces, “Fortunately, Emily had follows him to camp in the disguise of a page. And not undressed before retiring for the night.” what would have happenied, when she disclosed herHeaven be praised! To be sure there is no earthly self to him, heaven knows, except that Count Rayreason, apparently, why Emily should not, on this mond, Paladour's father, who was not dead at all,
rushed in at an opportune moment and absolved conciliate. Is that her course? Not at all. We him from his vow !
must blame, yet we cannot but admire, the reckAnother important stock character in these less hauteur with which the high-born maiden renovels is the servants. Most of these servants, with pels the advances of the nameless adventurer. But their exasperating talkativeness, are mere feeble when it comes to calling him the scum of the earth, echoes of Shakespeare's "Nurse," and dreadful and treating him generally with a scornful conbores, always excepting Pietro in "The Italian." tempt which would make a worm turn, we feel that He is delicious from beginning to end! Any one any self-respecting robber must have felt impelled wanting a glimpse of the vein of catchy cleverness to violent measures. And when she actually distoo often smothered in Mrs. Radcliffe by her pomp closed the fact that his other captive is her lover, we ous machinery, has only to seize on this book and lose all patience and willingly consign them both become acquainted with Pietro.
to the tomb. Instead, they escape down a rope As for the heroine, poor girl, she has been so ladder which conveniently hooks itself to the winmercilessly made fun of from Mr. George Meredith dow by some means or other. down, that we will, for the most part, pass her over, It is, however, in their relations to each other that except to say that possibly these milk-and-water heroine and hero shine out in their full lustre. We girls are to be preferred to the hectic heroine of have spoken, in another place, of the contrast bemodern sensationalism. The insipid peach is, after tween these stories and the old Romances of all, better than the one at whose heart a worm is Chivalry. In the latter, there is a simple expression gnawing, however dazzlingly the phosphorescent of this elemental passion which, though it may at radiance of decay may spread itself over the sur times repel our finer senses, is yet natural and inface. But this is far from the point. The supernal evitable. Rymenhild and Horn, Esclaramonda and goodness of our Matildas interest us little. Some Huon, may at times be somewhat indecent; but exhibition of that other quality, supposed in some they are at least impulsive, simple and straightforflippant minds to accompany supernal goodness, ward. And when, for some reason, the chronicler namely, hopeless stupidity, seems to deserve atten has chosen to curb his looseness of expression, the tion. These girls seem utterly lacking in common scenes are really lovely. That for instance between sense. For one thing, they inherit from Mrs. Rad Arthur and Guenever in the "Romance of Merlin." cliffe and her School an incredible reverence for the Compare it with the meeting between Isabella and conventions. There is Julia, for instance, in “The Sir Paladour in "The Albigenses.” The two scenes Sicilian Romance." Her lover had discovered her are alike in setting, each taking place in a banquet fleeing from the power of an enraged and all-power- hall of the old feudal castle. The gorgeous Lady of ful nobleman. As the sun rises on them he pleads Courtenaye, on her chair of state, surrounded by marriage in a neighboring monastery, as a means all the pomp of feudal magnificence, forms a heartof checkmating the nobleman and ensuring their less contrast to Guenever, as she stands in simpie happiness. Delay means eternal separation, for garb and attitude offering the wine-cup to her the Count is close behind them. Considering the father's deliverer; while Paladour's high-flown fact that she has been wandering around the language is absurd compared to the hot words woods all night with this young man, one would bursting from Arthur's heart. conclude that Julia's pink-and-white propriety It will be seen from the above statements that would lead her to consider this the only respectable a profound knowledge of human nature is not charthing to do. But no! Her brother has recently acteristic of the novels we are studying. It is prebeen killed by bandits, and Julia insists, before she eminently a work of plot and machinery. The will consent to think of marriage, on observing the characters are little wooden men and women such conventional period of mourning at a spot, by the as we used to play with in our Noah's arks, and exway, within perfectly easy reach of the indignant pose at pleasure to the ferocity of the tigers or bears and all-powerful nobleman !
or any other of Noah's proteges. We used to If our heroine's scruples are exasperating to an wonder that they remained just as yellow and hard honorable lover, her utter lack of tact in dealing and smiling as ever in face of such horrid perils ! with her various assortment of brutal captors is And thus it is with the characters moving through perfectly maddening. In “The Albigenses” Isabella these pages. They are the mere sport of circumof Courtenaye is carried off by an outlaw. Now stances. The author throws them into dungeons, this outlaw wants to marry her, and is inclined to tortures and manifold dangers. They weep or treat her with the utmost gentleness, hoping that smile as he pulls the string. The story does not time and reflection will bend her to his purpose.
take its trend because the heroine, forsooth, insists Considering the fact that Isabella knows that her upon acting out the faith that is in her in spite of lover is, at that moment, in the castle plotting her fate. She fits herself to fate like jelly to a mold. escape, it is obviously her policy to temporize and Such pliancy was necessary to this form of fiction.
Once put into it a bustling, everyday girl like scene serves merely as a prelude to an absurd visitaAusten's Elizabeth Bennett, and the mold would tion, in which Edmund's deceased mother adhave broken into a thousand pieces.
ministers to him and to the reader several pages of These characteristics, then-an unsuccessful at stupid advice. tempt at mediaeval local coloring, a stilted moral Both Reeve and Walpole were enthusiastically tone, and the inevitable combination of stock char- received by the public and boasted numerous disacters and wire-pulled plot-we take to be three ciples, whom, for lack of time or merit, we shall main characteristics of the Conventional class of pass over. •We turn at once to Mrs. Radcliffe, who Terror Tales. In their consideration we have left published her first novel in 1791, and in whom the out, for the moment, the predominating element of so-called Conventional type of Terror Tale culthe supernatural. We will now glance into the sep minated. arate novels.
Mrs. Radcliffe's work is marked by a change in "The Castle of Otranto" is interesting not from the treatment of the supernatural. Her predecesany merit of its own, but from its position as first in sors, Reeve and Walpole, marshalled an imposing the field. Considering it as a pioneer, its compre line of phantoms upon which to hang the terror of hensiveness of scope is remarkable. In the preface their tales. Mrs. Radcliffe, on the other hand, it explicitly strikes the keynote of the School. traces to natural phenomena most of her super"Terror,” we are told, “is the author's principal natural appearances. This has been by some conEngine.” All the ingredients of which we have sidered a blemish. She has been accused of shams already spoken find their place in this concoction, and deception. It is hard to understand this obthough so badly mixed and tempered as to render jection. The strange ice-cold Hand that seized my it arid and insipid. The Gothic castle, with its mother's in the dark hall was no less thrilling to the necessary equipment of trap doors, secret passages, little group to whom I was telling the story, behaunted chambers, loonis up as a model for all en cause they knew beforehand I was telling the truth. suing architecture. Storms come when called. The The words, “Asleep! Asleep! Asleep!” low, mysghost makes his portentous debut-a genuine terious and awful, which floated to me down the ghost, no sheet and pillowcase affair. Helmet and staircase of a house recently made desolate by statue shiver at the touch of magic, and pictures death, curdled my blood none the less because my walk around.
common-sense assured my affrighted nerves that The supernatural element in this book is so clum the phenomena must be explained. sily palpable that Clara Reeve, who, in 1777, pub This, then, seems to me Mrs. Radcliffe's signal lished her “English Baron,” while announcing her merit. She marched ahead boldy and took possesbook as the offspring of "Otranto," condemned sion of the field barely hinted at by Clara Reeve. Walpole's extravangance and declared her intention Human life as it surges and hums in the active of keeping this ghostly element within reasonable world, she does not know. The passions of Love, bounds. Such moderation hints vaguely at Mrs. of Hate, of Pride, of Avarice, she handles clumsily. Radcliffe and becomes Reeve's chief merit. In But the passion of Fear she does know, and that so this she shows advance on Walpole. He strives to
He strives to thoroughly that she scorns any extensive use of excite our fear hy bona fide ghosts and magical terrors to which only children are really subject, machinery. Where Reeve follows his lead she is and chooses those which may justifiably shake the not, perhaps, so extravagantly absurd, but she is at strongest nerves. A man wandering through conleast stupid and powerless.
vent vaults at midnight may well start at the low But on one occasion she has soared above him to groan behind him, even though it be but the stified a point he never dreamed of. She touches deftly, cry of a tortured prisoner; and a girl sitting alone at at least once, on the human soul quivering beneath stormy twilight in a wind-swept turret, poring over the impulse of vague, apprehensive fear. Walpole's weird pages of moth-eaten manuscript, would be sluggish heroes needed a real bogy to stir up their stolid indeed if she did not impute some sinister nerves. The picture Reeve draws of Edmund meaning to the creeping rustle of the tapestry at wandering at midnight through the apartments of her shoulder. the Old East Wing, through the rafters of which Thus to the Gateway of the varied Realm of Subthe rain forced its way, and along the passages of jective Fear do we see Mrs. Radcliffe conducting which the wind moaned and sighed, reached a high the erratic Genius of our novels, and it was perhaps degree of artistic excellence. Compared to it, the an inevitable result of her determination to avoid ready-made ghosts Walpole sets up seem vulgar sheet and pillowcase frauds, that we should find emand absurd. At this moment, at least, Reeve has phasized in her books the element of material or touched with successful finger the vast field of Sub- physical terror. So long as ghosts walked at jective Terror in which Radcliffe was to achieve her pleasure, they were naturally supposed to be capaiame. It is provoking that this admirable little ble of supplying the necessary quota of thrills. It