The Tale of Terror eBook

Edith Birkhead
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 261 pages of information about The Tale of Terror.
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,

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The Tale of Terror from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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