The Black Forest; Or, the Cavern of Horrors
Publisher: Ann Lemoine, and J. Roe
Publication Year: 1802
Book Dimensions: 11.5cm x 18.5 cm
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2 .B4561 1802
In this deceivingly short story with a complicated publication history, love, secrets, mystery, and murder abound. Borrowed almost entirely from the Cavern of Death, this book touches on strong gothic themes familiar amongst decades of other novels within its genre.
The Black Forest; Or, the Cavern of Horrors. A Gothic Romance is a German mystery, translated from German into this English version. The author of this book is unknown and the only material origins exist on a single title page which appears 10 physical pages in, following a group of blank pages and a frontispiece. The text was originally printed in London in 1802 by T. Maiden at Sherbourne-Lane for publishers: Ann Lemoine, White-Rose Court. Coleman-Street, And J. Roe, No. 90, and Hounddtich. The title page indicates The Black Forest was “Sold by all Booksellers in the United Kingdom.” This happily adorned book sold for a universal price of six-pence indicated on the title page under the publisher and printer information. On this same page, the unknown author or illustrator included an intricate watercolor and pencil drawing of a foregrounded tree with large, protruding roots accompanied by what appears to be a brick castle in the background. The drawing lacks a caption, explanation, or citation.
The book is a beautiful one, seemingly unharmed by the trials and tribulations of time. From the outside, it looks fairly untouched. The bright red binding would catch any onlooker’s eye among the stacks. The attractive binding is made of red leather and is adorned with two gold embellishments on either side of the book’s matching gilded title which reads in bold letters a shortened name: THE BLACK FOREST. Moving from the red binding to the cover, the book becomes even more impressive with its colorfully marbled display of green, blue, yellow and red swirls. The cover is smooth and in the corners lie two more triangles of matching red leather material. The Black Forest lies within two 11.5 by 18.5 cm unique covers and fills 1 cm of space widthwise. But this measurement deceives readers looking for a read of considerable length.
The book contains just 38 pages of text and one page of illustration, but despite the few pages the actual story occupies, the book holds many more physical pages following the text. The rest of them are completely blank (despite a single “g” written in pencil on one of the last). These pages, unlike the rest, appear not only blank, but completely untouched. The side of the binding which holds the blank pages is very stiff and the pages are pristine. The only thing that conveys these pages are old is their yellow staining due to aging. As for the 38 occupied pages, they are more worn and soft; some pages have yellow staining due to age and some oddly remain pristinely white. Interestingly, the text is noticeably small. The words are tightly packed onto each page and the margins are quite thin.
Despite the single “g” written faintly in pencil on one of the final blank pages, the book has no marks of personal ownership. Prior to the main text, there is hand-drawn, hand-painted watercolor illustration in the first few pages of the book. It exhibits a skeleton holding a reddened sword near a man in formal wear and it suggests the skeleton is moving towards the man while the man backs away in fear. The image’s setting is a dark room lit by a lantern. The caption below reads: “The terror of Henry at the appearance of a Skeleton waving a Bloody Sword.” There is a very faint marking just below the right side of the illustration that reads “S. Sharpese” which is most likely the illustrator’s signature. However, another, even fainter, marking exists on the right side under the image which may read “W. Gidell” but it is nearly indistinguishable. A third signature lies underneath the caption but the name is illegible, all that is clear is “Fig” at the start of the name. The frontispiece is protected by a single sheet of lighter tissue paper that lies over top of it.
It appears much care was taken in the making of this book, with its hand-made watercolor frontispiece, its marbled cover, and its pleasant and pristine binding. Essentially no marks were made by reader intervention and the book remains very close to its original condition, so it seems that much care was also taken in the usage of this book. Whether the story excites or not, this now 200-year-old book is one with much to say beyond what the actual text communicates.
The Black Forest: Or, the Cavern of Horrors. A Gothic Romance. From the German is listed in the Sadleir-Black Special Collections Library catalogue as having been published by Ann Lemoine in 1802, though no publication date appears on the title page. The book first entered the publishing world as a chapbook. The same story can be found in the Sadleir-Black Collection bound to Bruce’s voyage to Naples, also published in London 1802. Both versions indicate no author but are said to have been translated “From the German” on their title pages. Which German book it was translated from is still unknown. According to A History of Guilty Pleasure: Chapbooks and the Lemoines, Ann Lemoine was “the first chapbook publisher to use colored illustrations and, for many years, the only one offering colored editions” (Bearden-White 313). The Black Forest was sold for 4 pence and 6 pence. The version held in the University of Virginia’s collection sold for 6 pence and contains two beautifully colored illustrations.
Unsurprisingly, The Black Forest: Or, the Cavern of Horrors is in fact a plagiarized version of an older text, The Cavern of Death: A Moral Tale. While the general framework narrative of these two versions remains the same, the characters’ names and plot points shift. In The Cavern of Death, Sir Albert (as opposed to Sir Henry de Mountford) is summoned by a skeleton to discover the truth of the cavern whereas in The Black Forest Sir Henry stumbles upon the cavern and discovers the skeleton which leads to the exposure of the truth. This is just one example of the slight changes made to the extracted plot.
The Cavern of Death first appeared in 1795 in a London newspaper called The True Briton. Multiple forms of this original text can be found in the Sadleir-Black Collection, each claiming to have been published at the same time in two different cities. The most common publication city amongst all of them is Baltimore where it was printed and sold by “Bonsal & Niles, 173, Market-street” as a chapbook. The other is Philadelphia where it was printed by and for “William W. Woodward, Green Sign of Franklin’s Head, no. 16, Chesnut Street.” Most publications accredit the original version to The True Briton, where the story first appeared. Professor Allen W. Grove, in the introduction of his 2005 edited version of The Cavern of Death, claims the original chapbook borrowed themes from older texts such as The Castle of Otranto (1765) and The Old English Baron (1778) (3). Grove hypothesizes that The Cavern of Death provided elements, such as the white plume deceiving character identities and Sir Constance declaring her love to an eavesdropping Sir Albert, found similarly in successful gothic novels such as Ann Radcliffe’s A Sicilian Romance and Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (3). He also labels The True Briton as a “certainly…uncommon place to find a novel,” thus adding to the intrigue of this text’s origins (7).
One more iteration of The Cavern of Death popped up after The Black Forest: Or, the Cavern of Horrors. In his introduction, Grove cites this additional titleas The Black Forest; or, The Cavern of Death, A Bohemian Romance which he claims was published in 1830 and consisted of the same story “stripped of [its] sentimental trappings” (8). Essentially, the later versions of The Cavern of Death were cut down to fewer and fewer words, the bones of the dramatic storyline forming the remains. This title, with the inclusion of “A Bohemian Romance” is briefly mentioned in Franz Potter’s book The Monster Made by Man: A Compendium of Gothic Adaptations—which is the source Groves cites from (128). Interestingly, in the same paragraph Potter mentions The Black Forest; or, The Cavern of Death, A Bohemian Romance, he also mentions a compilation of stories entitled Legends of Terror! and Tales of the Wonderful and Wild! The first 1826 collection of this book does not include any version of The Cavern of Death. However, around 1840 another publication of Legends of Terror! was published by G. Creed (71, Chancery Lane) and Holborn and it is in this second edition that the final reincarnation of The Cavern of Death: A Moral Tale resides as The Black Forest; or, The Cavern of Death, a Bohemian Romance on page 65, where the main character Sir Albert enters (as opposed to Sir Henry), emulating the original version over the second version.
Today, The Black Forest is not available in print but its source text, The Cavern of Death, is available as a paperback published by Valancourt Books and edited by Allen Groves. Additionally, archival digital copies are available for The Cavern of Death, The Black Forest, and Legends of Terror! through Google Books.
Narrative Point of View
The Black Forest: Or, The Cavern of Horrors is a written in the third-person point of view of an anonymous, omniscient narrator who never appears in the text. Most often the narrator follows the main character, Sir Henry, throughout the text, seeing the world through his eyes. However, we get a few glances at the intentions and actions of others, such as Elinor, while Sir Henry remains ignorant. More than once, the text uses dramatic irony to create some degree of suspense. Furthermore, the narration is not overly complex, despite the archaic writing style, and most often centers around the story’s plot. The narrator takes time to portray settings and scenery in great detail and takes up small amounts of the novel’s pages to reflect on character emotions. However, the largest share of the text consists of dialogue between characters and Sir Henry. In fact, nearly all that is unbeknownst to Sir Henry throughout the text is revealed via characters’ storytelling and conversation. The omniscient narrator withholds secrets that are revealed by characters themselves in the final moments of the book. However, the narrator displays his all-knowingness even while withholding information by dropping hints of the truths uncovered at the novel’s end.
Sample Passage of Third-Person Narration:
The deafening noise of the torrent filled the soul of Sir Henry with an unknown horror: he descended precipitately from the bank, and retreated to a rock, which seemed on one side the boundary of the Cavern; against which he leaned, while his imagination, unrelieved by an visible object, and wholly occupied in the recollection of his dream, was left at liberty to represent to him now, the hideous phantom hovering in the dusky air, and now, the fleshless warrior, shunning his embrace, and waving high the fatal sword. (32)
Sample Passage of The Baron telling his own story:
“Rudolph, Baron of Gotha, was thy father. He was my brother, my elder brother; and from the Holy Land was he returning, to claim the inheritance which, at the death of our common parents, devolved of right to him; when I, covetous to possess it, met him in this Forrest … Often, at the still and solemn hour of midnight, has the spirit of my murdered brother visited me; sometimes in silence, pointing to his wounds, and waving his bloody sword.” (35–36)
The third-person narrative style of The Black Forest invites readers to sympathize with Sir Henry, as the novel most closely follows his personal life, while also allowing readers to see from a wider bird’s-eye view. In using third-person narration over first-person narration, the unknown author allows readers to be plucked up out of one scene and deposited into the next, effectively enabling readers to know more than the characters. This narrative style, as well as the past tense writing style, presents the characters as defenseless to predetermined events. For example, Sir Henry and Theresa, with the devious help of Elinor, form a plan to escape the castle of Gotha together. While they believe their plan to be an effective one, what the two do not know (but what we the readers do) is that they have been deceived by Elinor, their plan will fail, Theresa will be captured, and Sir Henry will be threatened with death. Thus, the omniscience of the narrator—both as a surveyor of all the characters and as retrospective point of view—often belittles the characters, displaying them as both naïve and foolish.
Interestingly, the narrator is also able to deceive us as readers, perhaps belittling us in the process of using the Baron’s character to reveal the novel’s full truth—that the true heir to the castle of Gotha is Sir Henry—after withholding it for the entirety of the book. Additionally, the narrator teases us by dropping clues to this truth: The Baron’s interest in Sir Henry’s ring and his home life, Sir Henry’s dream of what is revealed to be his father’s skeleton, and the dark cloud that forms above the Cavern. In doing so, the novel flips its original use of dramatic irony. While we once had the power of knowledge, in the end it is the Baron who reveals the story’s hidden truths. It is the character who holds the power of knowledge. Thus, the novel sanctions and subsequently eschews our power as readers. It does so through the use of the Baron’s sub-narrative presented through dialogue, which holds a lot of power in this novel. In most cases, dialogue between characters or to an audience is what reveals secrets and truths throughout the novel. In the novel secrets are coded as power-wielding as they determine who lives, who dies, and who becomes the Baron of Gotha. Thus, while the narrator appears to hold the power in telling the novel’s story, it is the characters confessions to each other that hold it all.
The story begins with two men, Sir Henry de Mountford and his servant Peter, who traverse the Black Forest as nighttime approaches. Henry thinks of his former love and Peter indulges him, questioning why he ever chose to leave Leipzig, the town where this woman, Theresa, still resides. Sir Henry explains it is because he could not offer her a “rank worthy of her merit” (A2). As they continue to discuss a big, dark cloud-like figure descends upon them through the trees. The meteor-like object lands at the entrance of a deep, dark cavern. Sir Henry deliberates whether to enter or not and settles upon the decision to return the next day with lights but to continue on to the Castle of Gotha, where he originally intended to go, for the rest of the night.
Soon they arrive at the castle to find a celebration, a kind of engagement party for the Baron and an unnamed woman. Sir Henry is welcomed with warm embraces by Lord Edgar, son of the Baron of Gotha. He leads him to the Great Hall of the Castle and presents him to his father who is hesitant to welcome Sir Henry with excitement and instead remains eerily silent. Later at the dinner table, Sir Henry notices The Baron eyeing him suspiciously. He also takes great interest in a valuable ruby ring Sir Henry wears that is the one relic he has to remember his late father.
Following dinner, Sir Henry retires to his room and, after some time, falls asleep. He has a vivid nightmare in which a ghost overwhelms the very dining hall where he has just eaten dinner. Then a cloud, like the one seen in the forest, emits a mist that removes all the people who surround him, and Sir Henry is left alone to face it. It moves to embrace him but at the very moment they touch, the phantom disappears, and a skeleton emerges in its place. The skeleton waves a bloody sword in the air saying, “Thou sword must receive from this cold hand, ere I can rest at peace, or thou restored to thy just inheritance” and then it too vanishes (11). Sir Henry awakens from fear of the dream in a cold sweat.
In the morning, the Baron invites Sir Henry to breakfast in his room. They begin their conversation by discussing Sir Henry’s origins. He explains that his father died before he was born, and his mother died from despair of her husband’s death before Sir Henry came to the age when he could remember her. When the conversation finds a natural end, Sir Henry goes to find Lord Edgar as he has promised to discuss some unspecified troubles he has been experiencing. They both walk to the Forest as they discussed the night before. When they arrive, Lord Edgar proceeds to tell him that he is in love with his father’s fiancé. He explains that immediately upon encountering the woman his father is set to marry, he discovered the enchantment of her beauty and the truth of her youth (she looked to not exceed the age of Lord Edgar!). He declares the only way he can have this woman for himself and maintain his fortunes would be to become the Baron of Gotha himself, implying he must murder his father. He asks Sir Henry to be the one to do it. Sir Henry, offended and appalled by the plan, refuses to act in accordance. It is then revealed that the woman Lord Edgar speaks of is Lady Theresa, Sir Henry’s former lover!
Sir Henry, infuriated by what he has just heard and unable to bear it further, declares his friendship with Lord Edgar over and makes his way deeper into the Forest. He dreadfully considers the two possible fates of Theresa and resolves to find her at once. He must wait until evening to see her so to pass the time he walks along the perimeter of the castle. Soon after he begins he hears the voice of Theresa and her maid, Elinor. Theresa laments her aversion to the marriage in long sobs. Elinor asks where her affections truly lie, and Theresa reveals that the day she met Lord Edgar he wore a “casque” which she believes once belonged to the man who she once loved (21).
Knowing that this casque belongs to himself, Sir Henry reveals himself and his love for her. Astonished by the sight of him at this very moment, Theresa inquires how he could possibly end up at the castle of Kruitzner. He declares it is the love he feels for her and impatience to revisit her that led him there. After a few euphoric moments together, Theresa returns to her tears, remembering the reality of her situation. Sir Henry consoles her fears by suggesting that they run away together and escape the tormenting marriage which her father imposed. Though Sir Henry cannot offer her a life of luxury, he promises her one of love.
Elinor who remained silent since the entry of Sir Henry until this moment interjects to support his proposal. In response, Theresa consents to his protection and the three of them formulate a plan to free her. Elinor decides she will bring Sir Henry the key to the castle garden in the forest by distinguishing him in the night via a silver plume which he will stick in his hat.
What Theresa and Sir Henry don’t know is that Elinor acts as an accomplice to Lord Edgar. She viewed the confession of love between the two as a dual betrayal to the friendship of Lord Edgar and rather than heading to the cottage in the forest where she had agreed to meet Sir Henry with the key, she goes to the Castle of Gotha. She reveals everything to Lord Edgar, including the escape plan. She then hands him the key to the garden and a silver plume to wear on his head, so Theresa will mistakenly run to him in the night and he can take her where he pleases. Elinor then runs to meet Sir Henry and tells him that Theresa will be unable to meet him tonight, but the plan remains set to follow tomorrow, a lie that will force him to fall prey to the Baron and his forces when they find out, via Elinor, that he intends to steal Theresa away.
That night Theresa and the deceptive Elinor execute the original plan. Just as she was told, Theresa locates a man with a silver plume on his hat and descends from her window into his abrasive arms. Unable to see his face or hear his voice, she follows his arms and ascends his horse. Then they speed away.
Meanwhile Sir Henry decides to go for a walk. He stumbles upon the cavern of horrors (from the title) once again and resolves to enter it. He enters the cavern and looks around. Immersed in darkness Sir Henry is unable to see anything except a small chasm in the rock which, as he approaches, reveals a narrow passageway. He follows it and, at the end, discovers a sword attached to a hand which runs into the body of a skeleton like the one in his dream! At this discovery he exclaims, “Yes! Injured spirit! Thou, whom I know not by what name to address, but who hast, questionless, led me hither, and art now invisibly present to my invocation! I receive thy gift! And I swear to allow myself no rest, till the vengeance shall be completed, in which, though by what mysterious connection as yet I comprehend not, thou hast taught me to believe my own destiny involved!” (33). As he says this the flame which led him down the pathway extinguishes, and Sir Henry sinks to the ground, senseless of his surroundings for a few moments. After regaining his senses, he hears more sounds and a cry of horror which exclaims, “Blood! A cataract of Blood” (33). He approaches the sounds to find two men, mangled and dead under the weight of a large fragment of rock. He finds another man groaning in agony on the floor. He looks to help the man and discovers it to be the Baron of Gotha! The Baron, incredibly disoriented by a spiritual force, does not recognize Sir Henry. Sir Henry lifts the Baron and leads him from the cave but before they can leave a man jumps from a crack and admits to being sent by the Baron to assassinate Sir Henry. In a moment of guilt, the Baron explains that the skeleton in the cavern belonged to Sir Henry’s father who was murdered by the Baron himself. He continues to say Sir Henry’s father was Rudolph, Baron of Gotha, his older brother. Many years prior, Rudolph was returning from a trip to claim his inheritance when the present-day Baron, ripe with jealousy and greed, gathered a group of ruffians and murdered him so that he could covet the inheritance for himself. Once Rudolph was dead, the ruffians tried to pry his sword from his hand, but it would not budge. The younger brother commanded that the sword be left with the body in the cavern, for its discovery would reveal that the murder was committed by the new owner of the sword. Ever since, the Baron experienced apparitions of his brother pointing to his wounds and waving his sword and insisting that his demise would be by the hand of his brother’s heir, yielding the sword of their father. The Baron has since made attempts to retrieve it, but failed. So too has he sought an heir of his brother, but without success. It wasn’t until the morning Sir Henry arrived at the Castle of Gotha that The Baron discovered an heir of Rudolph existed! That day the Baron resolved to assassinate Sir Henry which explains his position in the Cavern awaiting Sir Henry with two accomplices, one of whom was Peter (who is revealed to be one of the ruffians who murdered Rudolph and the betrayer of Sir Henry).
As the Baron completes his story, a group of men on horses approach. They hold a corpse which they reveal to be Lord Edgar. At this discovery, the Baron plunges his late brother’s sword into his chest and dies, fulfilling the prophecy. The horseman explain that they accidentally attacked and killed Lord Edgar, mistaking him for Sir Henry. Sir Henry demands he be brought back to the castle where he is reunited with Theresa and Elinor, who confesses to her own crimes.
In the end, being the proper heir to the Castle of Gotha, Sir Henry is made the new Baron. He requests the hand of Theresa in marriage, knowing it will be accepted by her father now that he is in a place of security and wealth. His request is met with enthusiasm and the young lovers marry after the proper, honorable burial of Henry’s father, Rudolph, the wronged Baron of Gotha.
Bearden-White, Roy. “A History of Guilty Pleasure: Chapbooks and the Lemoines.” The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, vol. 103, no. 3, 2009, pp. 284–318.
The Black Forest; or, The Cavern of Horrors. A Gothic Romance. From the German. London, Ann Lemoine and J. Roe, 1802.
The Cavern of Death. A Moral Tale. H. Colbert, 1795.
Grove, Allen W. The Cavern of Death. Valancourt Books, 2005.
Legends of Terror: And Tales of the Wonderful and the Wild. Being a Complete Collection of Legendary Tales, National Romances, and Traditional Relics, of Every Country … G. Creed, 1840.
Legends of Terror!: And Tales of the Wonderful and Wild ; Original and Select, in Prose and Verse. Sherwood, Gilbert, and Piper, 1826.
Researcher: Eva Louise Ridder Ebbesen