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MATTHEW LEWIS

1775-1818
English

"You are mine, and Heaven itself
cannot rescue you from my power"

Matthew Lewis was born on 9th July 1775. He began his education at a preparatory school under Reverend Dr. John Fountain, Dean of York at Maryleborne Seminary, a friend of both the Lewis and Sewell families. Here, Lewis learned Latin, Greek, French, writing, arithmetic, drawing, dancing, and fencing. Throughout the school day, he and his classmates were only permitted to converse in French. Like many of his classmates, Lewis used the Maryleborne Seminary as a stepping stone, proceeding from there to the Westminster School, like his father, at age eight. Here, he acted in the Town Boys’ Play as Falconbridge in King John and then My Lord Duke in High Life Below Stairs.

Later, again like his father, he began studying at Christ Church, Oxford on 27 April 1790 at the age of fifteen. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1794. He later earned a master's degree from the same school in 1797. Intended for a diplomatic career like his father, Matthew Gregory Lewis spent most of his school vacations abroad to prepare for his future career as well as to study modern languages. His travels sent him to London, Chatham, Scotland, and the continent at least two times, including Paris in 1791 and Weimar, Germany from 1792 to 1793.

During these travels abroad, Lewis enjoyed spending time in society, a personality trait which he maintained throughout his life. It was at this time that he began translating pre-existing works and writing his own plays. The death of his father in 1812 left him with large fortune, and in 1815 he set off for the West Indies to visit his estates; in the course of this tour, which lasted four months, the Journal of a West India Proprietor, published posthumously in 1834, was written. A second visit to Jamaica was undertaken in 1817, in the hope of becoming more familiar with, and able to ameliorate, the condition of the slave population. However, the fatigues to which he exposed himself in the tropical climate brought on yellow fever which resulted in his death during the homeward voyage back to England. He was buried at sea. The exact dates of his death are debated, with some believing it to be 14 May and others, 16 May.

As a writer, Lewis is typically classified as writing in the horror-gothic genre along with authors Charles Robert Maturin and Mary Shelley. Though he was most assuredly influenced by Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho and William Godwin’s Caleb Williams, taking Radcliffe’s obsession with the supernatural and Godwin’s narrative drive and interest in crime and punishment, Lewis differed with his literary approach. Whereas Radcliffe would allude to the imagined horrors under the genre of terror-gothic, Lewis defined himself by disclosing the details of the gruesome scenes, earning him the title of horror-gothic novelist.

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