Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)
ph_0111207095-Lewis_M.jpg Matthew Gregory Lewis Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Although Matthew Gregory Lewis was one of the most successful British dramatists of the Romantic era, his primary claim to fame today is his authorship of that most extravagant of gothic novels, The Monk: A Romance, which was originally published, in 1796, as Ambrosio: Or, The Monk. This was Lewis’s first significant published work, and it created such a sensation among his contemporaries that he is still referred to more often by his nickname of “Monk” Lewis than by his given name. Despite the objections of moralists and literary critics alike, this lurid tale of human perversity, with its seductive demons and bleeding ghosts, sold prodigiously during Lewis’s lifetime and remains standard reading for anyone studying the development of the English novel.

Two of Lewis’s nondramatic publications were The Love of Gain: A Poem Initiated from Juvenal (1799), written in imitation of the Thirteenth Satire of Juvenal, and Tales of Wonder (1801), an anthology of horror poems. The former, an insignificant throwback to the subject matter and the style of the Age of Johnson, attracted little attention, but the latter stirred considerable interest, some of it admiring but much of it amused. Tales of Wonder was compiled in response to a vogue for gothic ballads that occurred after the publication in the 1790’s of several translations of G. A. Bürger’s Lenore (1773). Unfortunately, the vogue had begun to wane by the time the anthology appeared, and it was unmercifully parodied during the months following its publication. Nevertheless, it remains a work of considerable historical interest because of its inclusion of some of the early poetry of Robert Southey and Sir Walter Scott and because of its influence throughout the nineteenth century on poetic gothicism.

Much of Lewis’s work was derived from or was influenced by German sources, and in 1805 and 1806, he published translations of a pair of German romances, one of which he subsequently dramatized. The first, The Bravo of Venice: A Romance, was based on J. H. D. Zschokke’s Abällino der Grosse Bandit, and...

(The entire section is 881 words.)