Matthew Gregory Lewis, also known as “Monk” Lewis, was an English novelist and playwright famous for his Gothic novel “The Monk.” Lewis was born July 9, 1775. His father was England’s deputy Secretary at War. At the age of eight, he attended Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford at age fifteen.
In 1791, Lewis spent the summer months in Paris, France and the fall of 1792 until the end of the winter of 1793 traveling Germany, where he had the privilege of meeting Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe. In 1794, Lewis obtained his Bachelor of Arts.
In 1791, his mother and father permanently separated. His father hoped that he would become a politician, but his mother supported his desire to become a novelist and playwright. In 1792, Lewis completed his first play “The East Indian”; he completed his second, “The Twins,” in 1794.
During a stay in Holland, Lewis completed his novel “The Monk.” It took him approximately ten weeks to write and was filled with murder and ghosts. In 1796, at the age of 20, Lewis published “The Monk” which was an immediate success. Because of its many horrific subjects - murder, incest, ghosts, and mob violence - it was published under Lewis’ initials only. His novel also became a turning point for Gothic literature because it focused more on the horrifying than the romantic.
Lewis served as a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons from 1796-1802. Despite his position, Lewis continued to write. Between 1796 and 1812, Lewis wrote 18 separate plays, published and performed at the London Theater. His success as a playwright lead to his being called the most popular playwright of his age. “The Castle Spectre” is regarded as his most popular play.
“The Monk,” despite being extremely popular, was harshly criticized. Lewis announced he was the author and added his name to the novel for the second printing. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a poet, personally attacked Lewis’ work in a review posted in Critical Review in February 1797. Coleridge thought the novel was blasphemous and claimed he felt it was inappropriate reading. He was not alone. Thomas James Mathis threatened that legal action could be taken against Lewis because some of the Biblical references could be considered sacrilegious. After all of the criticism hit its peak, Lewis revised the novel, removing several passages, before its fourth printing.
In 1812, Lewis’ father passed away, leaving his fortune and estates to Lewis.
Lewis stopped writing professionally after the death of his father. Along with his fortune, Lewis also inherited a large estate in Jamaica and the home of nearly 500 slaves. Concerned about the slaves’ living situations and overall well-being, Lewis took a voyage to Jamaica to visit the estate. He arrived January 1, 1816. In August of the same year, Lewis visited Lord Byron and Percy Shelley in Geneva. After 14 months touring Italy, Lewis sailed for Jamaica once again in November 1817. On the return voyage, Lewis contracted yellow fever and died on May 16, 1818. He was buried at sea.
After his death, in 1834, “The Journal of a West Indian Proprietor” was published and is said to be a triumph that attests to his humane nature.
Anon. N. d. “Matthew Gregory Lewis Facts.” Biography. Retrieved August 23, 2017
Anon. N. d. “The Monk by Matthew Lewis.” The British Library. Retrieved August 23, 2017
"Matthew Gregory Lewis". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2017. Web. 13 Aug. 2017
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