Letters were then in their most flourishing state in Italy, and contributed to dispel the empire of superstition, at that time so forcibly attacked by the reformers. It is not unlikely, that an artful priest might endeavor to turn their own arms on the innovators; and might avail himself of his abilities as an author to confirm the populace in their ancient errors and superstitions.
The simplicity of their behaviour, almost tending to excite smiles, which, at first, seems not consonant to the serious cast of the work, appeared to me not only not improper, but was marked designedly in that manner. My rule was nature. However grave, important, or even melancholy, the sensations of princes and heroes may be, they do not stamp the same affections on their domestics: at least the latter do not, or should not be made to, express their passions in the same dignified tone. In my humble opinion, the contrast between the sublime of the one and the naïveté of the other, sets the pathetic of the former in a stronger light.
The Castle and Lordship of Otranto should pass from the present family whenever the real owner should be grown too large to inhabit it.
In vain did Manfred’s friends endeavour to divert him from this savage and ill-grounded resolution. The generality were charmed with their lord’s decision, which, to their apprehensions, carried great appearance of justice; as the magician was to be punished by the very instrument with which he had offended: nor were they struck with the least compunction at the probability of the youth being starved; for they firmly believed, that, by his diabolical skill, he could easily supply himself with nutriment.
She was, however, just going to beg admittance, when Manfred suddenly opened the door; and, as it was now twilight, concurring with the disorder of his mind, he did not distinguish the person, but asked angrily, who it was? Matilda replied, trembling, “My dearest father, it is I, your daughter.” Manfred, stepping back hastily, cried, “Begone! I do not want a daughter”; and flinging back abruptly, clapped the door against the terrified Matilda.
Manfred rose to pursue her; when the moon, which was now up, and gleamed in at the opposite casement, presented to his sight the plumes of the fatal helmet, which rose to the height of the windows, waving backwards and forwards in a tempestuous manner, and accompanied with a hollow and rustling sound…. “Heaven nor hell shall impede my designed!” said Manfred, advancing again to seize the princess. At that instant, the portrait of his grandfather, which hung over the bench where they had been sitting, uttered a deep sigh, and heaved its breast.
That excellent lady, who no more than Manfred doubted the reality of the vision, yet affected to treat it as a delirium of the servant. Willing, however, to save her lord from any additional shock, and prepared by a series of grief not to tremble at any accession to it, she determined to make herself the first sacrifice, if fate had marked the present hour for their destruction.
Ashamed, too, of his inhuman treatment of a princess, who returned every injury with new marks of tenderness and duty; he felt returning love forcing itself into his eyes—but not less ashamed of feeling remorse towards one, against whom he was inwardly meditating a yet more bitter outrage, he curbed the yearnings of his heart, and did not dare to lean even towards pity. The next transition of his soul was to exquisite villainy. Presuming on the unshaken submission of Hippolita, he flattered himself that she would not only acquiesce with patience to a divorce, but would obey, if it was his pleasure, in endeavouring to persuade Isabella to give him her hand.
“O that dear mother! yes, Bianca, ‘tis there I feel the rugged temper of Manfred. I can support his harshness to me with patience; but it wounds my soul when I am witness to his causeless severity towards her.” “Oh! madam,” said Bianca, “all men use their wives so, when they are weary of them.” “And yet your congratulated me but now,” said Matilda, “when you fancied my father intended to dispose of me!” “I would have you a great lady,” replied Bianca, “come what will. I do not wish to see you moped in a convent, as you would be if you had your will, and if my lady, your mother, who knows that a bad husband is better than no husband at all, did not hinder you—”
“Father,” interrupted Manfred, “I pay due reverence to your holy profession; but I am sovereign here, and will allow no meddling priest to interfere in the affairs of my domestic. If you have aught to say, attend me to my chamber—I do not use to let my wife be acquainted with the secret affairs of my state; they are not within a woman’s province.”
“Holy father,” said Hippolita, “it is your office to be no respecter of persons: you must speak as your duty prescribes—but it is my duty to hear nothing that it pleases not my lord I should hear.”
I fear no man’s displeasure when a woman in distress puts herself under my protection.
Know then, that I have long been troubled in mind on my union with the princess Hippolita…for we are related within the forbidden degrees. My only difficulty was to fix on a successor, who would be tender of my people, and to dispose of the Lady Isabella, who is dear to me as my own blood. I was willing to restore the line of Alfonso, even in his most distant kindred…. I would submit to anything for the good of my people—were it not the best, the only way to extinguish the feuds between our families, if I was to take the Lady Isabella to wife—you start—but, though Hippolita’s virtues will ever be dear to me, a prince must not consider himself; he is born for his people.
Matilda disengaged herself from her women, stole up to the black tower, and unbolting the door, presented herself to the astonished Theodore. “Young man,” said she, “though filial duty and womanly modesty condemn the step I am taking, yet holy charity, surmounting all other ties, justifies this act. Fly, the doors of thy prison are open: my father and his domestics are absent, but they may soon return.”
Arriving there, he sought the gloomiest shades, as best suited to the pleasing melancholy that reigned in his mind. In this mood he roved insensibly to the caves which had formerly served as a retreat to hermits, and were now reported round the country to be haunted by evil spirits. He recollected to have heard this tradition; and being of a brave and adventurous disposition, he willingly indulged his curiosity in exploring the secret recesses of this labyrinth…He thought the place more likely to be infested by robbers than by those infernal agents who are reported to molest and bewilder travelers.
Where’er a casque that suits this sword is found,
With perils is thy daughter compass’ed round;
Alfonso’s blood alone can save the maid,
And quiet a long restless prince’s shade.
And jealousy, that, for a moment, had raised a coolness between these amiable maidens, soon gave way to the natural sincerity and candour of their souls. Each confessed to the other the impression that Theodore had made on her; and this confidence was followed by a struggle of generosity, each insisting on yielding her claim to her friend.
“Thou art as much too good for this world,” said Isabella, “as Manfred is execrable—but think not, lady, that thy weakness shall determine for me. I swear, hear me all ye angels” — Stop, I adjure thee,” cried Hippolita; “remember thou dost not depend on thyself; thou hast a father.”
It is not ours to make election for ourselves: heaven, our fathers, and our husbands, must decide for us. Have patience until you hear what Manfred and Frederic have determined. If the marquis accepts Matilda’s hand, I know she will readily obey. Heaven may interpose and prevent the rest.
“Come, come,” resumed the friar, “inconsiderate youth, this must not be; eradicate this guilty passion from thy breast.”—“Guilty passion!” cried Theodore, “Can guilt dwell with innocent beauty and virtuous modesty?”—“It is sinful,” replied the friar, “to cherish those whom heaven has doomed to destruction. A tyrant’s race must be swept from the earth to the third and fourth generation.”
Manfred, in the mean time, had broken his purpose to Frederic, and proposed the double marriage. That weak prince, who had been struck with the charms of Matilda, listened but too eagerly to the offer. He forgot his enmity to Manfred, whom he saw but little hope of dispossessing by force; and flattering himself that no issue might succeed from the union of his daughter with the tyrant, he looked upon his own succession to the principality as facilitated by wedding Matilda.
That prince had discovered so much passion for Matilda, that Manfred hoped to obtain all he wished by holding out or withdrawing his daughter’s charms, according as the marquis should appear more or less disposed to co-operate in his views.
The moment Theodore appeared, the walls of the castle behind Manfred were thrown down with a mighty force, and the form of Alfonso, dilated to an immense magnitude, appeared in the centre of the ruins. “Behold in Theodore the true heir of Alfonso!” said the vision: and having pronounced these words, accompanied by a clap of thunder, it ascended solemnly towards Heaven, where, the clouds parting asunder, the form of St. Nicholas was seen, and receiving Alfonso’s shade, they were soon wrapt from mortal eyes in a blaze of glory.
“Thou guiltless, but unhappy woman! unhappy by my crimes!” replied Manfred, “my heart, at last, is open to thy devout admonitions. Oh! could—but it cannot be—ye are lost in wonder—let me at last do justice on myself! To heap shame on my own head is all the satisfaction I have left to offer to offended Heaven. My story has drawn down these judgements: let my confession atone—but ah! what can atone for usurpation, and a murdered child! a child murdered in a consecrated place!—List, sirs, and may this bloody record be a warning to future tyrants!