LINEBURG


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˜Wide wave (he cry™d) all bright with golden Grain
The neighb™ring vales, while this proud cumb™rous Mass
For many a barren Furlong chills the Plain,
And draws with idle Zeal the Crowds that pass:
No more the Vot™ries of each time-shook Pile,
As Ruin™s Heirs, shall call these Shades their own,
For blazon™d Arms explore the pageant Isle,
Or search dark Registers of faithless Stone.™
He spoke “ resolv™d. “ The menac™d Arches frown™d,
The conscious Walls in sudden Con¬‚ict join™d,
Crush™d the pale Wretch in one promiscuous Wound,
And left this Monument of Wrath behind.
(pp. 23“4)69

Another anonymous elegy on Netley Abbey is very different in approach.70
The author is careful to distinguish between what are, in his view, valid and
invalid oral traditions “ for instance, details on the number of people in the
44 Oral Culture and Catholicism
Abbey during its period as a private residence are vouched for as coming
from two old men of undoubted veracity, who remember their fathers
describing it. But relating Walter Taylor™s story, and a supplementary one
telling how the purchaser of the leads from the abbey roof was killed by
falling into the vessel in which they were melting, the author comments:
˜The common people idly imagine it was a judgment upon them, and tell
a long story of a dream Taylor had the night before, warning him of it; but
such nonsense as that is from the present purpose, and at no time indeed
at all worth relating.™ Even if the author is slightly disingenuous in relating
it anyhow, he makes, unlike Keate, no imaginative use of what he disdains
to endorse in a factual preface. The elegy, which is very close in date to
Keate™s, may even be intended as a riposte to it.71
A more oblique commentary on the Abbey™s history is William Pearce™s
Netley Abbey: An Operatic Farce (1794). Poking fun at the fashion for sham
ruins, and boasting in its last act a spectacular backdrop of the Abbey drawn
by John Inigo Richards, this highly successful production manifested a
topical engagement with the Gothic throughout.72 Expressing the concern
with the theme of dispossession characteristic of all writers on sacrilege,
the plot turns on the frustration of plans by Oakland, a landlord, to knock
down the cottage of his poverty-stricken god-daughter Ellen in order to
improve the vista through from his land to the Abbey. Oakland contemptu-
ously dismisses his daughter Lucy™s objections as fanciful nonsense inspired
by Gothic romance, ˜while I go on improving, she, as if in direct opposition,
goes on reading™ (p. 2). Nevertheless, the denouement vindicates readers
and condemns improvers. The threat to the cottage is removed, and Ellen
is restored to her rightful inheritance when “ in an update of oral tradi-
tions surrounding ecclesiastical ruins “ her lost fortune of India bonds and
exchequer bills is discovered buried in the Abbey. Less slight than it seems,
the play is making a serious point in its portrayal of the immoral Gothicist:
one who enjoys the sight of picturesque ruins, but risks repeating the sin of
the original impropriators. Paul Ranger may even be correct in suggesting
that Pearce intends some members of the audience to pick up a speci¬c
allusion to the Walter Taylor story, among the more general references to
dispossession.73
The clergyman Richard Warner™s Netley Abbey: A Gothic Story appeared
the year after Pearce™s farce; the novel, though emphatically not borrowing
from the play, was perhaps suggested by it. As a proli¬c antiquarian, living
locally, Warner was well aware of the legends surrounding the Abbey, and he
discusses them in Collections for the History of Hampshire, also of 1795. But as
an imaginative writer, he seems to have chosen not to give further currency
Abbey ruins, sacrilege narratives 45
to any pre-existent orally transmitted legends which he considered danger-
ously fanciful. Commenting on the so-called Abbot™s Kitchen, for instance,
he remarks on the ˜dark aperture, which the rustic antiquarian of the spot
points out as extending a considerable distance under ground. These sub-
terraneous passages are annexed, by vulgar credulity, to almost every old
convent in the kingdom, and supposed to contain the masses of riches
which the Monks by their avarice were enabled to heap together; an idea
which probably arose from the reports of the visitors in Henry VIII.™s time,
who invented and diligently propagated various stories to lower the clois-
tered ecclesiastics in the opinion of the people in general™ (p. 36).74 Quoting
the story of Walter Taylor from Browne Willis™s account, Warner calls it
˜superstitious™ (p. 32), and though he uses supernatural machinery in his
novel, it is striking how strongly he reverts to standard-issue Gothic tropes
which have no particular connection with Netley. One scene exhibits par-
ticularly well the ambivalence with which Catholic spectres were regarded.
The hero is wandering by the Abbey at midnight: ˜A religious awe now took
possession of his soul, for the scene around was calculated to excite serious
emotions. He trod on consecrated ground.™ A benign phantom directs him
to seek for happiness within the walls of the Abbey, whereupon he hears a
woman™s shriek; hurrying towards it, he discovers the heroine walled up in
the building by the monks at her wicked cousin™s request.75
A very similar contradictoriness is visible in the ¬rst of two poems written
by Mary Russell Mitford about Netley Abbey. Mitford characterises herself
as alive to reverberations of the sacred, while deploring popery itself:

™Tis sweet, “ though memory loves to tell
The cloister™d forms that sleep beneath;
Pale ghosts in every shadow dwell;
And spirits sigh in every breath;
Still with that sweetly solemn fear,
A softer, better feeling blends; “
™Twas Superstition govern™d here,
And here her sullen empire ends.76


Published in 1811 and 1827 respectively, Mitford™s two poems on the same
subject show an interesting modulation in the author™s sympathies at a
time when questions of Catholic toleration had assumed an enormous
political prominence. Sixteen years later, Mitford was to use no such proviso
when she described Netley™s numinous qualities “ though, in its seemingly
unconscious equation of enchantment with divine intercession, the last
46 Oral Culture and Catholicism
line is particularly suggestive of the associations which Catholic devotion
conjured up in the mind of the Romantic.

There in each moss-grown stone we trace
The pious tenants of the place;
There in each lingering footstep tread
Upon the unmonumented dead.
Yes, image of Rome™s fallen power,
This, this is Netley™s hallowed bower!
And it is holy still. Each wall
And silent aisle and roo¬‚ess hall . . .
Each mark of ruined grandeur there
All to the charmed heart whisper prayer.77

While both Warner and Mitford could equally well have used any other
Gothic ruin as a starting-point for spectral re¬‚ection, William Sotheby™s
˜Netley Abbey. Midnight™ makes use of the Walter Taylor story to initiate
his own Catholic seance, citing Francis Grose in the margin as his authority.

Upon the mossy stone I lie reclin™d,
And to a visionary world resign™d,
Call the pale spectres forth from the forgotten tombs.
Spirits! the desolated wreck that haunt,
Who frequent by the village maiden seen,
When sudden shouts at eve the wanderer daunt,
And shapeless shadows sweep along the green;
And ye, in midnight horrors heard to yell
Round the destroyer of the holy cell,
With interdictions dread of boding sound;
Who, when he prowl™d the ri¬‚ed walls among,
Prone on his brow the massy fragment ¬‚ung; “
Come from your viewless caves, and tread this hallow™d ground!
(l.18“30)78

Sotheby continues with reminiscences about his own boyhood, when he
˜saw gleaming far the visionary croud / Down the deep vaulted aisle in long
procession ¬‚oat™ (l.39“40); but, in the end, he sighs:

Farewell, delightful dreams, that charm™d my youth! . . .
Now while this shrine inspires sublimer truth . . .
In the deep stillness of the midnight hour,
Wisdom shall curb wild fancy™s magic pow™r . . .
(l.51, 53, 55“6)
Abbey ruins, sacrilege narratives 47
Catholicism is equated with all imagination, and the avengers of Walter
Taylor™s sacrilege, outgrown spectres from Sotheby™s fanciful childhood, are
dismissed with regretful ¬nality alongside the rest of the visionary crowd.

g h os t sto ries of the a ntiqua ri e s
It was not only poets who dreamt up spirits in a place like Netley Abbey.
Ruins of this kind, fascinating both to antiquarians and locals, became a
particular stimulus to the visions, hallucinations and supernaturally charged
dreams which Jan Vansina has identi¬ed as frequent in oral societies, and
which were familiar enough too in the more mixed conditions of early
modern England.79 Frequently from the seventeenth to the nineteenth
centuries, and occasionally thereafter, antiquarian descriptions of ecclesias-
tical ruins are punctuated by ghost stories. Typical is an account of Kirkstall
Abbey, West Yorkshire, in the Gentleman™s Magazine for 1805. Describing
the former public path through the abbey, the writer con¬des: ˜In this path,
while a thoroughfare, were seen monstrous prodigies. The most curious rela-
tion was that of a peasant, who scampered from a long retinue of mourners,
shrouded in white, and marching in slow funeral procession, at the dead
hour of midnight.™80
This brief anecdote takes us in several directions. Its date of 1805 is a
reminder that the Gothic novel was a dominant imaginative genre in the
1790s, and that subsequent accounts of ruined abbeys were liable to attract
supernatural literary association. However, there was a well-established tra-
dition of reporting local ghost stories in antiquarian works long before the
of¬cial advent of the Gothic novel; as commented above, the beginnings of
this are usually ascribed to Horace Walpole and The Castle of Otranto (1764),
though the genre only came into high fashion in the closing decade of the
century.81 One must notice, too, that the story is said to come from a peas-
ant, but is only conveyed to us via the report of someone literate enough to
be a correspondent of the Gentleman™s Magazine. Ghost stories reported by
antiquarians are most typically ascribed, as here, to uneducated observers.
This reporter, like many others, does not positively endorse the story, but
leaves the possibility of wider belief and corroboration titillatingly open. A
range of other rhetorical opportunities could be taken by the antiquarian
interested in ghost stories; sceptics used them to illustrate the credulity of
the ignorant, while believers in the demonic quality of apparitions could
marshal them in support of a solemn theological warning.
There was a constant interplay, among both antiquarians and their infor-
mants, between popular moralisation and popular superstition. Ghost
48 Oral Culture and Catholicism
stories themselves are not morally neutral: cross-culturally, revenants are
believed to wander because of un-righted wrongs, while ghost stories tend
to attach themselves to sites of violent death.82 The dissolution of abbeys,
monasteries and convents would have reverberated for several generations
in the memories of those living near the sites.83 Many ecclesiastical ruins
came to have ghost stories attached to them, and all of them were seen as
exuding a sense of the uncanny, which imaginative writers in the Gothic
tradition encouraged but did not invent. While there is an obvious anti-
Catholic element to some of this mythologisation, in other cases the ghost
stories attached to abbey ruins re¬‚ect a perception of the ruins™ original
inhabitants as wronged rather than evil. Theo Brown has argued that such
stories are a form of social correction, the externalisation of a collective bad
conscience about the Reformation;84 certainly, they can often be interpreted
as expressing nostalgia for medieval Catholicism, or at least an indignation
at the manner of its downfall.85 Reformers under Henry VIII might have
hoped they were doing away with superstition by suppressing England™s
religious houses; all the same, England™s inheritance of ghost stories would
be impoverished without the ecclesiastical ruins they left in their wake, and
sacrilege narratives should be read as part of this wider tradition.86

conclus ion: cath ol ics, t h e g ot h i c an d t h e re tu rn
of the repre sse d
The orally transmitted sacrilege narrative, like Gothic writing itself, ¬c-
tionalises a wide variety of topics “ from ruined abbeys to secular great
houses, from celibate religious communities to the continuance of noble
bloodlines, from human relics to architectural fragments “ but all have
some bearing on how the English experienced, ¬ctionalised and framed
in anecdote the conscientious cruxes of the English Reformation.87 It is
nothing new, in itself, to remark how much the Gothic writers owed to
stories, plots and themes in¬‚uenced by the Reformation; critics have, for
instance, been conscious of the earliest Gothic novelists™ debt to revenge
tragedy, not least because Gothic drama came to vie for popularity with the
Gothic novel.88 That late eighteenth-century Britain™s growing interest in
orally transmitted ballads and regional literature also contributed to the lin-
eaments of the Gothic is similarly indisputable.89 But critics have been less
interested in what those same novelists borrowed from non-literary ¬ction
or non-¬ctional literature: and this chapter has suggested that those inter-
ested in the antecedents of Gothic ¬ction should look more closely at the
works of early modern church historians and antiquarians in which sacrilege
Abbey ruins, sacrilege narratives 49
narratives are preserved, with an especial eye to the creative ambivalence
with which England™s Catholic heritage was regarded.
Appropriately enough for sources which have so much to say about archi-
tecture, this is in keeping with the current rethinking of English Gothic,
which architectural historians are undertaking. As Chris Brooks puts it,
˜Around the start of the seventeenth century, and in England most impor-
tantly, the Gothic revival began.™90 Side-by-side with a continuing, unre-
¬‚ective tradition of Gothic building and ornamentation, and a care among
antiquarians to preserve and record the threatened remains of the medieval
past, there arose further evolutions such as Tudor Gothic, and in the early
seventeenth century, the style™s self-conscious deployment by Bishop Cosin
and others for ideological ends. Though interest in the Gothic took a deci-
sive new turn in mid-eighteenth-century England, the Gothic revival was
not inaugurated with the designs for Strawberry Hill, and English Gothic
¬ction did not begin with Horace Walpole™s bad night. Moreover, just as
there is no one-to-one correspondence between religious denomination
and style of building, Gothic ¬ction is capable of taking on many different
denominational or secular casts.
When the Gothic literary mode began in England it certainly had explicit
religio-polemical overtones deriving from the manner in which England
had handled the Reformation, but these did not all work one way. Despite
the trend set by Walpole, and the powerful use of anti-Catholic tropes by
writers as central to the Gothic canon as Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Lewis,
Gothic ¬ction is not necessarily anti-Catholic.91 There is more work to be
done on Catholic, and pro-Catholic, remodellings of ¬ctional Gothic. A
Simple Story, by the Catholic writer Elizabeth Inchbald, is set among English
Catholic gentry, drawing on certain Gothic tropes like the tyrannical father
and the persecuted heroine, while rather ostentatiously avoiding others
that could be perceived as directly re¬‚ecting on the Catholic faith: no
coincidence, perhaps, that critics are divided as to whether to call it a
Gothic novel or not.92 Other novelists make use of subject matter directly
related to the Reformation in a manner which foregrounds the romance
of Catholicism, rather than its evil: Sophia Lee™s early Gothic novel The
Recess (1785) tells the story of Mary Stuart™s secret daughters, brought up
as Catholics under the ruined abbey of St Vincent, where there exists a
system of tunnels designed by a nobleman after the Dissolution to house
dispossessed monks discreetly.93
Rosetta Ballin™s less well-known The Statue Room (1790), more con-
sciously sympathetic to Catholicism than Lee™s novel, also comments on
the Reformation by means of a counterfactual genealogy. The novel, which
50 Oral Culture and Catholicism
is based on the idea that Catherine of Aragon was pregnant at the time of
her banishment from Henry VIII, ends despondently with its heroine, the
rightful queen, going mad and ¬ring a pistol at Elizabeth I before commit-
ting suicide.94 The novel vividly illustrates Robert Miles™s contention that
Gothic texts engage with issues of genealogy and descent, while picking
up on Catholic controversialists™ awareness of how Protestant success in
England had been helped by the accidents of the Tudor line.95 Ballin and
Lee both use counterfactual history to bring out the themes of dispossession
omnipresent in Gothic writing: to quote another analysis, ˜there is broad
agreement that the Gothic represents the subject in a state of deracination,
of the self ¬nding itself dispossessed in its own house, in a condition of
rupture, disjunction, fragmentation™.96 Like the ghost stories and sacrilege
narratives discussed above, their novels testify to England™s imaginative
preoccupation with the human cost of the Reformation; and The Recess
in particular, with its stress on architectural ruin, evokes a chronological
period closer to Lee™s own time than that of Mary Stuart™s.97 English Protes-
tants thought they knew that popery was oppressive and tyrannical; but
the abbey ruins scattered across the English countryside also inspired sym-
pathetic speculation and pity towards their former inhabitants, and Gothic
¬ction often became a way of expressing this double reaction.98
Should one, therefore, argue that because no exact counterpart to
England™s ruined abbeys was to be found elsewhere in early modern Europe,
there was nowhere else that Gothic writing could have arisen? Literary his-
torians have tended to identify the genre as smelted in England and fur-
ther re¬ned in Germany, two countries which had overpowering reason
to express the con¬‚ict between Catholic and Protestant in their national
literature.99 But it would be wrong not to recognise the appeal that Gothic
¬ction had for other nationalities; it was, for instance, also seen as peculiarly
topical at the time of the French Revolution, as commentators from the
Marquis de Sade onwards have recognised.100 Anticlericalism, blending
with the hatreds of the revolutionaries, tended in French Gothic to obscure
the characteristically English emphasis on unjust dispossession and provi-
dential intervention “ but this is because the presence of Catholic themes
in Gothic writing has always acted as a lightning-conductor for strongly
divergent imaginative emphases.101 The revolutionaries™ anticlericalism and
violent prejudice against the aristocracy would have made myths of aris-
tocratic decadence, ecclesiastical corruption and tumbling edi¬ces highly
congenial to them, however and wherever those myths arose.
Linking the French Revolution with the knock-on effects of the English
Reformation is nothing new. One of the founding texts of Gothic criticism,
Abbey ruins, sacrilege narratives 51
Maurice L´vy™s Le Roman ˜Gotique™ Anglais (1968), asserts that England™s
e
revolution of 1688, by which England™s Protestant ascendancy was ¬nally
established, was a more determining factor on Gothic ¬ction than the
French Revolution.102 But the rise of Gothic ¬ction has been related as well
to other causes of historical anxiety. In an in¬‚uential study, David Punter
has argued that the Gothic is a literature of self-analysis emerging at the stage
when the English bourgeoisie began to explore the conditions and history
of their own ascent, and that the preoccupation in this literature with issues
of ancestry, inheritance and the transmission of property betrays anxieties
about the nature of their ascendancy.103 An uneasiness of the kind Punter
suggests is certainly prevalent in the period “ if more overtly among the
detractors of social climbers than elsewhere “ and could certainly have found
metaphorical re¬‚ection in the dubieties of English Protestantism. But issues
of religious etiology are, arguably, more directly related to Gothic ¬ction™s
overt preoccupations than are issues of class; and given the monopoly still
wielded by Christianity over ideas of heaven and hell, religious anxiety
would have been just as natural a cause of terror at that date as social.
Historical moods and events may fortuitously become a mirror for psy-
chological dramas, and this is never more true than in the preoccupation
with inheritance manifested in the Gothic novel. As a number of critics
have recognised, it is very easy to dehistoricise family dramas, and that has
its own dangers.104 But there should be no problem in combining historical
and psychoanalytical criticism, since a particular, fortuitous combination of
political and religious circumstances may spring the lock on a pre-existent
chamber of family secrets.105 Parental metaphors are basic to Christian
doctrine and discipline; the Reformation rendered it necessary to endorse
certain aspects of one™s inheritance while repudiating others; and thus, from
the imaginative if not the social point of view, Protestantism can be said to
have imposed a desperate ambivalence about the family on all its followers.
As George E. Haggerty has put it, ˜The devices typical of Gothic ¬ction
have not been chosen by accident. They offer the most complex vocabulary
for Gothic expression because they have the power to objectify subjective
states of feeling.™106
Another series of psychological insights, those gleaned from Freud™s essay
on the uncanny, has already been fruitful as a means of combining historical
criticism with the psychological.107 It is now commonplace to think of the
Enlightenment period as one plagued by instabilities and phantasmago-
rias, offsetting its glori¬cation of rationality and progress; and discussing
Gothic ¬ction, Terry Castle has made an attractive case for reading the
Enlightenment period in the light of Freud™s essay.108 Freud sees the return
52 Oral Culture and Catholicism
of the repressed as reopening world-views belonging to an earlier stage of
development; and if one ¬rmly historicises this, it has some relevance to the
subject matter of this chapter.109 While it was never fair to equate Catholi-
cism with the dark, the irrational and the unspeakable, such an equation
would have been routine for most pre-modern Protestant Englishmen at
most times, including the time at which the ¬rst Gothic novels were being
written.110 Moreover, what distinguishes the late eighteenth century from
previous periods in England is, precisely, the return of the repressed in the
form of increasing conspicuousness and legal toleration for Catholics.
Throughout the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Catholics
were becoming more assertive, and successfully gained an ever-increasing
degree of toleration from the government.111 The ¬rst Catholic Relief Act,
whereby Catholics could legally purchase and inherit land if they subscribed
to a new oath of loyalty, was granted in 1778; and the early 1790s, the
period when the Gothic novel ¬rst enjoyed widespread success, began with
the second Catholic Relief Act (1791) which widened provision for Catholic
worship and admitted Catholics to the professions. In addition, John Bossy
has argued that from about 1770 the English Catholic community began
a fast expansion because of a number of factors: increased toleration, Irish
immigration and demographic trends in general. Thus, at the period when
the Gothic novel was most popular, Protestant Englishmen would have
experienced an intensi¬cation of the anti-Catholic fears that were so central
to their sense of nationhood “ fears to which the Gordon Riots of 1780 bore
earlier witness, and which must have operated at the psychological level as
well as the political.112 The central paradox in Freud™s essay is how the
genuinely unknown is not frightening at all, because uncanniness depends
on a previous, outgrown familiarity. To many English Protestants of the
late eighteenth century, nothing could have seemed more familiar, more
superseded or more threatening than medieval Catholicism; and its growing
legal toleration would perhaps, at both conscious and subconscious levels,
have been almost as terrifying as seeing monks move back into the ruined
abbeys.113
Thus, one can only partly agree with Robert Kiely when he writes, on
the topic of irrationality within Otranto and other English Gothic nov-
els, that Catholic ˜energy seemed largely a thing of the past. Heightened
emotion was the objective for which the Roman Church was a convenient
excuse.™114 For the ¬rst Gothic novelists, Catholic topics certainly acted as
a way into many different facets of unreason, as they undertook imagina-
tive explorations which might seem to leave denominational questions far
behind. But one should be wary of forgetting the initial inspiration, whether
Abbey ruins, sacrilege narratives 53
responding to novels of the 1790s or to those later critics who have found
it irresistible to polarise daemonic Catholic irrationality with Protestant
scepticism, reason and science. Using just such an opposition, Joel Porte
commented some years ago that ˜Gothic ¬ction [is] the expression of a
fundamentally Protestant theological or religious disquietude™; and while
this attitude has largely been supplanted by a widespread critical empathy
with ˜irrational™ elements in the genre, one should still beware ancestral
memories of anti-popery in any criticism which equates the Gothic too
¬‚uently with horror and unreason.115
But is the ˜heightened emotion™ of irrationality ˜an objective for which

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