Oswick, the Bold Outlaw: A Tale of the Eighth Century.
Publisher: T. Hurst
Publication Year: 1802
Book Dimensions: 12.5 cm x 18 cm
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2 .O675 1802
This 1802 novel details a tale of violence, manipulation, and deceit, as an outlaw attempts to evade his capture and destined fate. Will poetic justice be served or will evil continue to reign?
This edition of Oswick, The Bold Outlaw, A Tale Of The Eighth Century is rather worn, with no front cover, back cover, or substantial binding. The pages are held together by weathered remnants of paper binding, with a few pages falling loose. Upon opening the book, the reader is met with an intricate illustration, the only departure from the otherwise simple and consistent printing. This frontispiece depicts a man with a sword standing over a slain body in the midst of trees. The man who has been slain seems to have been a knight of sorts, as his helmet is lying beside his body on the ground. The image is composed entirely of line-work, with all shading being a manipulation of the density of lines, with there being either an abundance or absence of lines. The image is captioned with the following: “They beheld Blight standing over the mangled body of Egbert: his countenance betrayed the violent emotions of his mind—agitated by remorse—pg. 21”
The title page features the only appearance of the title in the entire book. There is no mention of the author, and thus the author of this work is unknown. However, “printed for T. Hurst, Paternoster-row” does appear on the title page, followed by “By J.D. Dewick, aldersgate-street” in much smaller, almost miniscule font, suggesting that such is not the author but rather the publisher.
The novel is 85 pages long, and is printed in a simplistic manner, on textured, rough, yellowed paper, with the edges browning. The pages feature a page number on the top and justified blocks of text, with large margins and small font, in a rather uniform fashion for the entirety of the 85 pages of the novel. However, some of the blocks of text on certain pages are unevenly placed, with some being crooked and having larger margins than others. It is to be noted that other versions of this novel have been found, which are printed as chapbooks and only feature thirty-some pages. One feature that can be seen in this edition is the appearance of letters in small font followed by a number at the bottom of certain pages. At the time, this was a mechanism to indicate how to correctly line up and fold the pages when printing. The book features no chapters.
Other irregularities of the book are merely a result of wear and age. The image featured on the back of the first page has left a slightly darkened imprint on the front of the second page. The frontispiece and title page are the most worn, being significantly darker and browner than the rest of the pages. Every page features three small holes in the middle left/right, towards the spine, as the pages were likely originally bound through these holes. There is a uniform brown spot on the top right of pages 8 through 15, as if something was spilt. The pages towards the end of the book are significantly whiter, firmer, and less worn, suggesting that the novel was not read all the way through much. There is a notable hole on page 79. The text is faded in certain parts, with no pattern. The simplistic pages and the absence of an author suggest the book was cheaply printed.
Oswick, the Bold Outlaw: A Tale of the Eighth Century has many versions in circulation. In addition to the 86-page edition published in 1802 by T. Hurst, there is also a chapbook version of Oswick. One version of this chapbook was published in 1806 in a volume of The Entertainer III and under the title, Surprising Achievements of Oswick, the Bold Outlaw, Chieftain of a Band of Robbers: Containing Also an Interesting Account of Enna, His Fair Captive, as Related by Her Son to King Alfred. A Tale of the Eighth Century. Another chapbook, again with the shorter title of Oswick, the Bold Outlaw: A Tale of the Eight Century,was published by Dean and Munday in 1823; this chapbook has 38 pages and a colored illustration instead of the black and white illustration.
T. Hurst, the publisher of the 1802 edition, published many other gothic texts in the early nineteenth century. The publishers Dean and Munday also published many chapbooks in the early nineteenth century, primarily between 1810 and 1855. Dean and Munday were known as pioneers of moveable books for children, which were books with interactive features such as pop-ups and flaps. The company was a small family business, founded in 1702, and later growing to a larger scale in the eighteenth century.
While some university library catalog entries note that this title appears in A Gothic Bibliography by Montague Summers on page 455, it in fact does not. The title noted on that page is Oswick the Outlaw which is a different text than Oswick the Bold Outlaw. Oswick the Outlaw was written by G Smith, Jr. and published by Southwark : G. Smith and Co. in 1815, is 24 pages, and is a children’s story that was performed as a play.
The title page of the 1802 work contains a five-line poem. This is an excerpt from King Arthur: An Heroick Poem in Twelve Books by Sir Richard Blackmore M. D., published in 1697. The original poem is as follows:
Hell’s greatest Masters all their
To form and cultivate so fierce a Mind,
Till their great Work was to Perfection brought,
A finish’d Monster form’d without a Fault.
No Flaw of Goodness, no deforming Vein
Or Streak of Vertue did their Offspring stain.
However, the lines included in the front of the book exclude the third line. The chapbook editions feature a different variation of only 4 lines.
There are no translations of this work and no traces of the reception of this book from the nineteenth century. In addition, its printing as a chapbook suggests it was a cheap work. There are no modern reprintings of the work or digital editions available. There is no scholarship on this text, also suggesting that it was not particularly popular.
Narrative Point of View
Oswick, the Bold Outlaw: A Tale of the Eighth Century is narrated anonymously in third person. The sentences generally lack significant amounts of description or insight into the characters’ thoughts and feelings, and rather focus mainly on plot development and observable actions. The description that is offered is akin to that which might be expected of a casual audience member of a play describing a scene, noting the anxiety on a character’s face or the pace of someone’s steps. The narration frequently consists of long, compound sentences comprised of short fragments bound together by many commas, colons, and semicolons, especially when describing a series of events taking place in succession, and many times punctuated with a period only at the end of the paragraph.
Oswick never before had seen the inside of a dungeon, and he shuddered. Blight was discovered extended upon his back in the damp vault ; his legs and hands were chained to the ground ; a basket of coarse bread was by his side, and a pitcher of stinking water ; pestiferous animals drew their train along the ground, and across his body ; a lamp burned in one corner of the dungeon, that emitted but a faint light, and materially added to the gloomy horrors of the place. (50)
The third-person narration plays a significant role in amplifying the suspense of the plot since much of the plot is spent with Oswick, the protagonist, incognito and attempting to avoid his capture. The narrator explains, “Oswick … beheld written in large characters, the promise of a great reward for his apprehension; and he stopped to read on, which ran thus: ‘Ten thousand crowns reward are offered to him … who will bring in the head … [of] Oswick the Outlaw’” (44). Here, the repetition of Oswick’s name in describing his actions and juxtaposing it against the mention of his name in a wanted poster emphasize the urgent and dire situation of Oswick and the shock and fear of seeing one’s own name being hunted. Furthermore, the staccato pace of the narration coincides with the pace of the dialogue to create a generally fast-paced tone, adding to the thrill of the plot. The style of narration also emulates that of a myth or tall tale by boasting the grandeur and fearful reverence of Oswick, as if he is a mythical villain.
The novel begins with the narrative of a King, Alfred, traveling through parts of his constituency to better understand what the people want. While doing so, one night, the King decides to take a detour off his route in favor of the beautiful scenery surrounding him. He quickly loses his way, day turns to night, and a storm afflicts him, forcing him to seek shelter in a stranger’s home. Alfred is warmly invited in, but upon being shown his room, finds a trembling boy under his bed, clutching a dagger. Alfred demands the boy to make clear his intentions and finds out that his mother, Enna, sent the boy to supply the dagger as a means of protection for Alfred as he is actually within the home of a notorious bandit, Oswick, and will be killed as he sleeps.
Enna was indeed right, as Oswick and his gang attack Alfred later in his chamber in an attempt to kill him. Alfred and the boy are able to undermine and overpower the assailers, killing Oswick and Blight, a member of his gang. Oswick unfortunately kills Enna.
As news of Oswick’s demise spreads, the town erupts in celebration. Oswick had been a heartless tyrant and all of his constituents lived in constant fear. After the dust settles, the boy, Egwald, begins to relay his story and the story of Oswick to Alfred.
Egwald, Enna, and his father, Egbert, had been the first victims of Oswick’s. In a similar situation as Alfred, they were forced to spend the night at Oswick’s because of a storm. Upon first glance at Enna, Oswick, astonished by her beauty, fell in love. However, his love was a violent one, as he prohibited her from leaving her chamber that night, stating that she was not allowed to continue her journey that night.
Egbert was killed by Oswick, leaving Enna and Egwald entirely at his mercy. He spared Enna because of his love for her, and honored her passionate pleas to spare her child as well. Enna and Egwald were then forced to live within the confines of a dungeon, until the unlikely night that Enna was permitted to make her journey. In the dungeon Enna was violated by Oswick and spent the majority of her years in a deep depression.
Egwald then relays how Oswick rose to power. He and his banditti gained a notorious reputation by making a pact that no one would ever leave the banditti’s chambers alive. As the banditti slay stranger after stranger, one of them, Gilbert, began to try to lead a revolution within the banditti to overthrow the tyranny of Oswick. Gilbert faltered as he was about to kill Oswick, overcome in a moment of compassion. Left alive, Oswick ensnared Gilbert in a manipulative plan to frame him, thus resulting in his death as revenge for his lack of loyalty. In doing so, Oswick accidentally ensnared himself as well and needed to go to great lengths to reestablish his credibility as a vicious monster. The tale followed his adventures of manipulation under disguise as he attempted to evade apprehension and regain his status. Along the way, he was betrayed by many of his own, who are overpowered by the allure of the monetary reward offered for Oswick’s capture. The novel comes to a close with Oswick scarcely escaping his arrest by own of his own comrades, with the plot coming full circle to the fateful night of the storm which forced Alfred into Oswick’s home.
Blackmore, Sir Richard. King Arthur: An Heroick Poem in Twelve Books. The Camelot Project. University of Rochester. https://d.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/text/blackmore-king-arthur-I
Oswick, the Bold Outlaw: A Tale, of the Eighth Century. London, Dean and Munday, 1823.
Oswick, the Bold Outlaw: A Tale of the Eighth Century. London, T. Hurst, 1802.
Surprising Achievements of Oswick, the Bold Outlaw, Chieftain of a Band of Robbers: Containing Also an Interesting Account of Enna, His Fair Captive, As Related by Her Son to King Alfred. A Tale of the Eighth Century. Printed by Dewick and Clarke, for T. Hughes, 1806.
Researcher: Archisha Singh