Lucretia; or, The Robbers of the Hyrcanean Forest: A Romance
Author: Frederic Chamberlain
Publisher: J. Lee
Publication Year: Unknown
Book Dimensions: 10.2cm x 17.3cm
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2.C43 L n.d.
In this chapbook by Frederic Chamberlain, a beautiful young lady is rescued from a group of murderous banditti by her father.
The physical text of Lucretia is small, only 10.2 x 17.3cm, and contains only 19 pages relating to the titular story—the remaining 11 pages are devoted to an unrelated story titled The Libertine. The text appears to have been ripped from a larger book or removed from a binding of some sort, which left navy blue residue with gold leaf on the spine. The paper pages are thick, yellowing, and quite soft, and are held together by the exposed thread binding. On the blank front cover page some previous owner has written the word “adventure” in cursive. While it may have been Sadleir, who donated the story to the collection, a handwriting analysis has not been done to confirm this.
Upon opening the slim volume, the reader is greeted with an illustration of one of the scenes of the book, titled “Lucretia rescued from the Embraces of the Robber, by her Father.” On the opposite side is information about the writer and publisher of the novel, as well as the price. The full title of the work is printed here as well—Lucretia, or the Robbers of the Hyrcanean Forest: A Romance. It is written by Frederic Chamberlain, published in London by J. Lee at Half Moon Street, Bishopsgate, and “sold by all the booksellers.” This page also lists the price of the work: sixpence. The unrelated story, The Libertine, which follows Lucretia is not mentioned on this title page.
Page 3 is blank, but page 4 is where the main text of the story begins. Centered at the top of the page is “Lucretia,” in bolded text. Page numbers are in the outer corners of the pages. The main body of the text is extremely plain—there are no illustrations, and no additions to the pages beyond the page numbers. The text is typed, and there are no irregularities in the printing beyond a fading due to age. The font is similar to the modern Times New Roman, but seems to be slightly smaller than most modern books, and would probably be classified as a 10 or 11point font today.
The lines are fairly close to each other, with not a lot of white space in between, but the margins on the pages are actually quite large. On page 9 they measured 1 cm on each side, 1.5 cm on top, and 2.5 cm on bottom. When Lucretia ends, the text simply stops on page 19, and on page 20 the title of the next work, The Libertine, is bolded and placed at the top of the page above the text. In some places within the chapbook, the text is slightly faded, but never to the point of being illegible. It seems likely to be the result of age rather than a misprinting, as the rest of the book is fairly uniform in its print style.
Overall, despite its age this chapbook appears to be in pretty good condition, with only minor wear and tear that can be attributed to its age. The addition of the extra story in the back is most likely due to the way the books were constructed. Chapbooks were printed on a large sheet of paper that was then folded to create the book, and sometimes there would be extra pages at the end that the main body of text didn’t fill. In that case the publishers would put a short story on those remaining pages so as to not to lose money on wasted materials.
Lucretia was written by Frederic Chamberlain, a relatively unknown author who appears to have not been very prolific in his writing, publishing only two chapbooks through J. Lee in London at Half Moon Street, Bishopsgate: Lucretia and Edward and Eleonora. Lucretia appears to have been relatively unpopular in its time, with no critical reviews appearing anywhere. It also appears to have had a limited printing run, since according to WorldCat, the only surviving copy is the one located in the University of Virginia’s Sadleir-Black Collection of Gothic Fiction.
While there are no surviving references to Lucretia from the time when it was published, it is listed in Gothic Writers with some other gothic chapbooks. The book notes that it is “A typical Räuberroman or robber romance. This type of Gothic derives originally from Friedrich Schiller’s 1781 drama Die Räuber [The Robbers]” (Frank 133). There are no glaring similarities between the plot of Frank Schiller’s drama and Lucretia, so it is likely that Chamberlain was inspired by the genre and wrote a chapbook, rather than stealing a plot and putting it in chapbook form, which was a fairly common practice at the time.
One of the challenges of seeking out information about Chamberlain is that he appears to have written as a hobby rather than full time, as he is credited with writing only two chapbooks. However, he also contributed to one other book called The Cuckold’s Chronicle ; or New bon ton : being a selection of modern and ancient popular trials for crim. con. This book is held at the Harvard Law School Library, and the description in their library catalogue notes that it was published/printed by Joseph Lee in 1808–1812. This is presumably the same J. Lee that published Chamberlain’s chapbooks. The Cuckold’s Chronicle was initially used as the title for a book compiling court cases dealing with adultery, cuckoldry, etc., that was first published in London in 1793 and then republished in Boston in 1798, with no author being credited for either work. The University of Virginia holds copies of both, and the content appears to be practically identical, with the 1793 copy being “PRINTED FOR H. LEMOIN, BISHOPS-GATE CHURCHYARD” and the 1798 copy being “PRINTED FOR THOSE TO CHOOSE TO PURCHASE” (Lemoin 1, Choose to Purchase 1).
The version printed by J. Lee was probably a cheap reprint of the original after it had gone out of print. What is interesting about this copy is that the “author” is listed as Joseph Lee, but the description in Harvard’s library catalog also includes an “attribution” section, which says “by Frederic Chamberlain, Esq. late of the Temple. Embellished with superb engravings. To be continued every fortnight.” After emailing Harvard to determine the purpose of the “attribution” section, Research Librarian Deanna Barmakian confirmed that Frederic Chamberlain was the actual author, and Joseph Lee was simply the printer/publisher. The fact that Chamberlain is listed as “Esq. late of the Temple,” gives another clue to his identity; as Ms. Barmakian suggested, it most likely indicates Chamberlain’s membership at the Inns of Court, or the professional associations for barristers in England. While the Inner Temple Admissions Database does not show Chamberlain as having been a member, it is probable that he was at one point a lawyer and a member of the Inns of Court, perhaps in the Middle Temple. This would also explain why he would author a book about court cases, which was a large departure from his gothic chapbooks. Unfortunately, no information about his legal career is known.
Narrative Point of View
Lucretia is narrated in the third person by an omniscient narrator who will sometimes directly address the reader when communicating characters’ emotions, or while changing from one storyline to another. The narration keeps the long sentences and flowery writing of a more antiquated writing style. While there is a fair amount of action within the story, it is narrated rather dryly, and the narrator instead chooses to focus on the characters’ inner motivations and reasonings.
Sample Passage of Third-Person Narration:
We must now leave our heroine, and particularize the situation of the distressed duke and his amiable wife, who, almost distracted, had searched the principal avenues that led to the forests but in vain. Night had now thrown her sable curtain over the whole face of the earth; not a luminary was to be seen; and the afflicted duchess could take no repose: At the peep of dawn, the duke, with his faithful servant, Osmin, mounted their horses, and proceeded to the thickest part of the forest, but a contrary way to that by which Lucretia was borne. Having searched nearly the whole of the day, and not meeting a human soul, they became fatigued, and, tying their horses to the branches of a small tree, retired a short distance from each other to rest their weary limbs, when sleep closed their eyes for a temporary time. During their repose the horses broke their reins, and sought after better pasturage. Soon after the duke was awakened by the sonorous noise of Osmin, who lay stretched out on his grassy couch, and dreamt he saw the fair Lucretia amidst myriads of scorpions, and at other times on the eve of falling over craggy and horrid precipices, into a deep gulp of stagnated water, filled with reptiles and monsters, whose mouths opened wide to receive those whom accident or misfortune led thither. Thus the mind is disturbed when any object or circumstance arrests its particular attention. (7)
Due to the dry narration style and the insistence on explaining aspects of the plot that are unnecessary, like the fact that the duke and Osmin go the wrong way, there is often a lack of suspense for the reader. While there are some descriptive adjectives, the narration is generally not expressive enough to create a complete picture of the environment, indicating that the scenery is relatively unimportant beyond the broad strokes of “forest,” “castle,” etc. The narrative style serves to distinguish the reader from the characters by giving the reader information the characters do not have, even while informing readers of what the characters are feeling. Overall, the story is presented in a very factual manner, and the narration does not ask the reader to do much work in figuring out what is going on, or why it is happening.
The story begins with an unnamed nobleman retiring to a modest life after squandering his fortune, something that his wife Eliza has been warning him about for years. He has an eighteen-year-old daughter named Lucretia, who is tremendously beautiful and has a talent for art and music. One day, Lucretia is outside sketching when a bandit approaches and attempts to woo her. A pistol shot from the woods startles her into swooning, and the bandit takes advantage of this and carries her away to an ancient castle, where she wakes up just as they arrive. She puts up a fight, but is subdued by a number of new banditti, and is then escorted into the main room of the castle. The banditti leave in search of more treasure as Lucretia laments her situation.
At this point, the story ceases to focus on Lucretia and switches over to focus on the previously unnamed nobleman, who is now called the Duke. He and his wife are concerned about their missing daughter, and at the dawn of the next day the Duke and his faithful servant Osmin leave to look for Lucretia. After having no luck for much of the day, they decide to take a short rest, at which point their horses escape and Osmin dreams about Lucretia being attacked by scorpions and monsters. Unable to travel any further, they decide to climb a tall tree, and by doing so are able to see the top of the castle where the banditti reside. Coincidentally, when they descend the tree, they are attacked by members of the same group of banditti that attacked Lucretia. Since their weapons are on their missing horses, they are forced to surrender, and are taken to the same castle where Lucretia is being held. Osmin, however, has managed to obtain the same cloak the robbers are wearing, and disguises himself to slip away before being taken into the castle.
The story again switches back to Lucretia—the chief of the banditti, Rufanus, has been soliciting her constantly, but she refuses him every time. After multiple refusals, Rufanus attempts to rape her, but is stopped by the second in command of the banditti, Dupardo, who secretly desires Lucretia for himself. Alfando, the third in command of the banditti, calls Rufanus and Dupardo away before a physical altercation breaks out between them, and Lucretia is left shaken. Rufanus enters the main hall to find that the Duke has been captured and that his servant Osmin has escaped. He orders that the Duke be thrown in the dungeon. After finding out that the banditti have brought back no treasure, he tells them to leave tomorrow morning, at which point he plans to rape Lucretia when no one is around to help her or hear her scream.
During the night, Lucretia discovers that there is a trapdoor in the room where she is being kept that opens up into her father’s dungeon. They reunite and talk about their misfortunes for the whole night, the Duke becoming increasingly disheartened as he learns more about their situation. They hear footsteps and the Duke returns to his dungeon. Rufanus checks to make sure Lucretia has not escaped, and then sends all of his banditti, except for Dupardo and Alfando, out to raid the villa of a Marchioness. She had left only a steward and his wife there to guard it, but luckily Osmin had arrived earlier and alerted the police, who are now keeping watch on the villa themselves. When the banditti attempt to rob the villa, they are met with the police force. All of the banditti are killed except for one, who they hope will give them information about Lucretia and her father. Unfortunately, he is too injured for speech, and must be nursed back to health before he is able to communicate the location of the castle and the current situation related to Lucretia.
While this is happening, Rufanus keeps going after Lucretia, but is continually rebuffed by Dupardo. The Duke laments his ostentatious lifestyle, and thinks that if he had just followed the advice of his wife none of this would be happening right now. Rufanus becomes irritated at the delay of the banditti and dispatches Alfando to discover what has happened. Alfando returns having found out nothing, so Dupardo leaves and discovers that all of the banditti have been killed. Rufanus is enraged, but tells Dupardo that he should leave and get some provisions in case they are trapped in the castle for a while. He intends to rape Lucretia while Dupardo is gone, but unbeknownst to him Dupardo plans to pick up poisons with the provisions so he can kill the chief and get Lucretia for himself.
While Dupardo is away, Rufanus convinces Alfando to help him get rid of Dupardo. Upon Dupardo’s return, Alfando attempts to shoot Dupardo with two pistols, but one does not fire while the other simply grazes Dupardo. Rufanus then stabs Dupardo, who dies. Elated, Rufanus prepares to celebrate with the poisoned provisions, and wants Alfando and Lucretia to join him. During his absence, Lucretia has found a sword and two pistols, which she gives to her father. She claims to be ill, but Rufanus insists they eat in her room anyway. She gets the unpoisoned part of the food by luck, while Rufanus and Alfando eat the poisoned parts, quickly falling ill. Alfando falls over first, and Rufanus uses this chance to once again attempt to rape Lucretia, but the Duke comes through the trapdoor and shoots him. As he lies dying, Rufanus repents of his life of violence, and tells the story of how he killed the last chief of the banditti to gain his position.
With all of the banditti now dead, Lucretia and her father are able to leave the castle. Osmin and the police have been following the wounded banditti back to the castle, and arrive just in time to meet the freed family. The castle is explored and the treasure divided up amongst all of the men. A room is discovered with the skeletons of Rufanus’s previous female victims, which causes Lucretia to faint into the arms of the police chief, with whom she subsequently falls in love. Everyone returns home to Lucretia’s mother, the Duchess, and the police chief receives the castle that previously belonged to the banditti. He and Lucretia marry, and it is said that ever after he spends his time hunting down banditti, becoming the bane of their existence.
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Burn, Richard. The Justice of the Peace, and Parish Officer. The Twenty-fifth Edition, Vol. II. London, A. Strahan, 1830.
Chamberlain, Frederic. Lucretia, or the Robbers of the Hyrcanean Forest: A Romance. London, J. Lee, n.d.
The Cuckold’s Chronicle: Being Select Trials for Adultery, Incest, Imbecillity, Ravishment, &C. … . printed for H. Lemoin, Bishopsgate Church-Yard, 1793.
The Cuckold’s Chronicle: Being Select Trials for Adultry, Incest, Imbecility, Ravishment, &C. Volume I. Printed for those who choose to purchase, 1798.
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Researcher: Dorothea Starr LeBeau