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.
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 reforme”: 

“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,

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The Tale of Terror from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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