Matthew Gregory Lewis (July 9, 1775 – May 14, 1818) was an English novelist and dramatist, often referred to as "Monk" Lewis, because of the success of his Gothic novel, The Monk.
He was born in London and educated for a diplomatic career at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford, spending most of his vacations abroad in the study of modern languages; and in 1794 he went to the Hague as attache to the British embassy. Although he only stayed a few months, it was there that he produced, in ten weeks, his romance Ambrosio, or the Monk, which was published in the summer of the following year. It immediately achieved celebrity; but some passages it contained were of such a nature that about a year after its appearance, an injunction to restrain its sale was moved for and a rule nisi obtained. Lewis published a second edition from which he removed what he thought were the objectionable passages, but the work retained much of its horrific character. Lord Byron in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers wrote of "Wonder-working Lewis, Monk or Bard, who fain wouldst make Parnassus a churchyard; Even Satan's self with thee might dread to dwell, And in thy skull discern a deeper hell." The Marquis de Sade also praised Lewis in his essay Reflections on the Novel.
Whatever its demerits, ethical or aesthetic, may have been, The Monk did not interfere with the reception of Lewis into the best society; he was favourably noticed at court, and almost as soon as he came of age he obtained a seat in the House of Commons as member for Hindon, Wiltshire. After some years, during which he never addressed the House, he finally withdrew from a parliamentary career. His tastes lay wholly in the direction of literature, and The Castle Spectre (1796), a musical drama of no great literary merit, but which enjoyed a long popularity on the stage, The Minister (a translation from Friedrich Schiller's Kabale und Liebe), Rolla (1797, a translation from August von Kotzebue), and numerous other operatic and tragic pieces, appeared in rapid succession. The Bravo of Venice, a romance translated from the German, was published in 1804; after The Monk it is his best known work. The death of his father 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 Indian Proprietor, published posthumously in 1833, 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; the fatigues to which he exposed himself in the tropical climate brought on a fever which resulted in his death during the homeward voyage.
The Life and Correspondence of M. G. Lewis, in two volumes, was published in 1839.
- This article incorporates text from the Encyclopędia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
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