Autograph title page for The Castle of Otranto. A Gothic Story

n.p.. n.d. [c1790].

Single leaf, 228x175mm. Inscribed on one side only in Horace Walpole's hand. The full text is:
"The Castle of Otranto. a Gothic Story. translated by William Marshal Gent. from the original Italian of Onuphrio Muralto, Canon of St Nicholas at Otranto. ----velut egri somnia vane./ Fingentur species; tamen ut pes, &caput uni/ Reddatur forme ------Hor."
Some staining and a little creased to the edges but overall in excellent condition.
Walpole has combined the title pages of the first and second editions (both appeared in 1765). The first edition title page contains the reference to the fictitious William Marshal and Onuphrio Muralto while these are omitted from the second edition. However, it is in the second edition that Walpole first describes his story as "Gothic" and includes the (slightly misquoted) epigraph from Horace's Ars Poetica, in a shortened form from that written here. These lines from Horace translate as "whose idle fancies shall be shaped like a sick man's dreams, so that neither head nor foot can be assigned to a single shape" and are taken from the passage in which the poet criticises the artistic fashion for combining the body parts of different creatures in a single imaginary animal - not unlike this manuscript title page in fact. These wild imaginings would become known as grotesques and the world of the hideous chimera lies behind the entire genre of gothic fiction of which Walpole's Castle of Otranto is, famously, the progenitor. Later editions would include all the details as we have them on this manuscript. As the manuscript is undated, we cannot say for certain whether it was intended as a draft for use by a publisher or if it was written out for presentation. If the latter, then the recipient would almost certainly have been Walpole's close friend Mary Berry to whom he gave and then bequeathed his large collection of his manuscripts. In her diary, Mary describes visiting the Bodoni press in Parma with Walpole to check on the (slow) progress of the sixth edition being printed for Edwards the London bookseller. The Bodoni printing does not include the Horace epigraph so maybe this manuscript was not intended for that edition although it conforms to that title page in every other respect. Whatever the circumstances, it is a curious and compelling piece of Walpoleana and a unique relic from a novel that holds an important place in the history of English literature.
The conceit of The Castle of Otranto is that it is based on a sixteenth century manuscript from Naples which had been discovered in the library of an ancient Catholic family in the north of England. Walpole hid behind the persona of William Marshal for fear of ridicule should his authorship be known. Encouraged by the favourable reception of the novel, Walpole dropped the mask for the second edition only to be met, after all, with a barrage of abuse, critics describing the story as absurd and dismissing it as romantic fiction. He should have kept quiet.

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