Friday, 4 May 2012

'The Maniac', 'The Captive' and
The Monk

    My good friend Anthony Smithson of Keel Row Books, knowing my love of things mad and dead recently came across the broadside, reproduced below, which was one of a number tucked inside a bible.

The Broadsheet

    'The Mariners Grave' is good (and at present defies my research- I welcome mails about this) but I was more struck by 'The Maniac' which is distinctly gothic in style, with its asylum setting and unfortunate inmate.

Hush! 'tis the night-watch
He guards my lonely cell;
He comes, he comes this way;
Yes! 'tis the night watch
His glimmering lamp I see!
No, by heaven, no, by heaven I am not mad!
Oh, release me-oh, release I loved her sincerely,
I loved her too dearly,
I loved her in sorrow, in joy and in pain;
But my hearts forsaken, yet ever will waken,
The memory of bliss will ne'er come again;
Oh! this poor heart is broken,
I see her dancing in the hall,
She heeds me not;
No, by heaven, no, by heaven I am not mad;
Oh, release me, oh, release me,
He quits the grate, he turns the key,
He quits the grate, I knelt in vain,
His glimmering lamp still-still I see,
And all-and all is gloom again.

Cold bitter cold-no life, no light;
Life all thy comforts once I had,
But here I am chain'd this freezing night;
No, by heaven, no, by heaven, I am not mad!
Oh, release me, oh, release me,
I see her dancing in the hall,
She heeds me not, she heeds me not;
Come, come-she heeds me not.
For lo! when I speak, mark how yon demons eyeballs glare;
He sees me now, with dreadful shriek he whirls, he whirls me in the air.
Horror, the reptile strikes his tooth, deep in my heart so crushed and sad;
Aye! Laugh ye fiends, laugh laugh ye fiends,
Yes, by heavens, they've driven me mad!

    Some hours on the internet reveal this poem to have an interesting history.

     Most of these ephemeral items do not survive in quantity, but this one is catalogued in a number of libraries with varying publication dates (1814 onwards) and  authors. The generally accepted author Henry Russell (1812-1900) but intriguingly some sources list a collaboration with Matthew Gregory Lewis (1775-1818) author of one of the greatest Gothic novels, 'Ambrosio, or The Monk' (1796). We shall return to Lewis a little later.

    Russell  was a prolific composer/songwriter of his day with over seven hundred compositions to his name, most of which are now forgotten with the exception of 'A life in the Ocean Wave'. His early career was spent in the U.S. where amongst other works he composed an entertainment called 'Far West, or, the Emigrant's Progress' describing how a poor emigrant could make good headway in the New World.

    This was a huge success for him both there and when he returned to the U.K. in 1840.

    Others of his works had an element of social reform in them such as his songs on the conditions of slaves 'The Slave Ship', the evils of gambling 'The Gamblers Wife' and, mental health reform.

A later (undated) edition
    Russell collaborated with some of the most popular authors of day such as Dickens and Eliza Cook, who both wrote songs for him. One of his earliest was Charles Mackay (1814-1899) who wrote much of 'Far West...'. Mackay is better remembered nowadays for his book 'Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds' (1841).

    Russell also included the words of other poets and writers in his works such as Byron, Longfellow and Tennyson.

    Russell would have been six when Lewis died thus ruling out a 'collaboration'; but a re-reading of the text shows two distinct styles, the final eight lines being far more dramatic than those preceding it. It is in fact a paraphrase from Matthew Lewis' little known monologue 'The Captive' (1803).

    'The Captive' was performed, by a leading actress of the day, Mrs [Harriett] Litchfield at Covent Garden on March 22nd 1803. It also had an overture and music composed by Thomas Busby (1755-1838) which I sadly have been unable to trace.

In the book 'The life and correspondence of M. G. Lewis: with many pieces in prose and verse, never before published' (Colburn 1839) an account is given as follows:

    "Mrs. Litchfield recited the monodrama in the most perfect manner; and gave to the performance all the effect of fine acting. Her character was that of a maniac, and her embodiment of the author's horrible imaginings, combined with the scenic effect, and other startling appearances' which with his usual skill he introduced in the piece, threw a portion of the audience whose nerves were unable to withstand the dreadful truth of the language and the scene into hysterics, and the whole theatre into confusion and horror. To judge from the appearance of the house, it might have been imagined, that instead of the representation of a maniac, one of Lewis's " gibbering ghosts " had favoured the stage with a visit in person. Never did Covent Garden present such a picture of agitation and dismay. Ladies bathed in tears others fainting and some shrieking with terror while such of the audience as were able to avoid demonstrations like these, sat aghast, with pale horror painted on their countenances. It is said, that the very box-keepers took fright, less, perhaps, at the occurrences on the stage than at the state of the theatre ; and such was the general confusion that not a few were ignorant that the piece had really been performed throughout a statement to the contrary being erroneously made in some of the papers and magazines of the day."

    Lewis withdrew the monologue after this single performance and it would seem that the piece remained unpublished until it appeared in 'The New Monthly Magazine' (1836) before being more formally published in 'The Life...' cited above.

    It would thus seem that my broadsheet would date from around 1836-1840 when 'The Captive' began once more to circulate.

The earliest(?) dated edition 1840
    Further evidence is provided by this sheet music which is dated 1840.

    A very important difference is that in Lewis' version it is a woman who is in the asylum and made a 'captive' ('My tyrant husband forged the tale'...)  whereas in Russells' version is male and the lyrics could be interpreted as that spoken by someone already a 'maniac'. It is thus a far tamer version of Lewis' original idea.

    Lewis' text is reproduced below.  A PDF of it (with his stage instructions) is available here

    For the curious, two versions of Henry Russells' 'The Maniac' can actually be heard on-line. The first version (minus lyrics) here; the second (with lyrics) here.

 Matthew G. Lewis.

Stay, Gaoler, stay, and hear my woe!
She is not mad who kneels to thee;
For what I'm now too well I know,
And what I was, and what should he.
I'll rave no more in proud despair;
My language shall be mild though sad;
But yet I firmly, truly swear,
I am not mad, I am not mad!

My tyrant husband forged the tale
Which chains me in this dismal cell;
My fate unknown my Friends bewail,-
O, Gaoler, haste that fate to tell!
O, haste my Father's heart to cheer!
His heart at once 'twill grieve and glad
To know, though kept a captive here,
I am not mad, I am not mad!

He smiles in scorn, and turns the key;
He quits the grate; I knelt in vain!-
His glimmering lamp still...still I see,-
'Tis gone! and all is gloom again.
Cold, bitter cold!-No warmth! no light!-
Life, all thy comforts once I had;
Yet here I'm chained, this freezing night,
Although not mad; no-no-not mad!

'Tis sure some dream, some vision vain;
What! I, the child of rank and wealth,-
Am I the wretch who clanks this chain.
Bereft of freedom, friends and health?
Ah! while I dwell on blessings fled,
Which nevermore my heart must glad,
How aches my heart, how burns my head;
But 'tis not mad; no, 'tis not mad!

Hast thou, my child, forgot, ere this,
A mother's face, a mother's tongue?
She'll ne'er forget your parting kiss,
Nor 'round her neck how fast you clung;
Nor how with her you sued to stay;
Nor how that suit your Sire forbade;
Nor how-I'll drive such thoughts away!
They'll make me mad! they'll make me mad!

His rosy lips, how sweet, they smiled,
His mild blue eyes, how bright they shone!
None ever bore a lovelier child,
And art thou now forever gone?
And must I never see thee more,
My pretty-my pretty-pretty Lad?
I will be free! unbar the door!
I am not mad, I am not mad!

O, hark! what mean those yells and cries?

His chain some furious madman breaks;
He comes!-I see his glaring eyes;
Now-now, my dungeon-grate he shakes!
Help-Help!-He's gone!-Oh! fearful woe,
Such screams to hear, such sights to see!
My brain, my brain-I know, I know
I am not mad, but soon shall be.

Yes! soon!-for Lo yon' while I speak.
Mark how yon demon's eyeballs glare!
He sees me, now, with dreadful shrieks.
He whirls a serpent high in air!-
Horror-the reptile strikes his tooth
Deep in my heart, so crushed and sad;
Ay, laugh, ye fiends;-I feel the truth;
Your task is done, I'm Mad! I'm Mad!