Manfredi; or, The Mysterious Hermit, an Interesting and Original Romance
Publisher: G. Stevens
Publication Year: 1790s
Book Dimensions: 18cm x 11cm.
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2 .T32 1790
A plagiarism of Sarah Lansdell’s 1796 (and much longer) novel, Manfredi, Baron St. Osmund, this 1790s chapbook features romance, betrayal, and an Italian hermit who is more courageous and honorable than he seems.
The full title of this book is Manfredi, or the Mysterious Hermit, an Interesting and Original Romance. The initial impression of the book, physically, is that it is rather long because Manfredi is the first chapbook in a compilation of eighteen chapbooks. It was common practice at the time to bind many chapbooks together in one book, and Manfredi is only thirty pages out of many in a compilation entitled Tales & Romances. The page numbers are not continuous throughout the compilation, instead they start over at the beginning of each new chapbook. There is no stated author for this book, but it states that it was published by G. Stevens, with the given address at 10 Borough Road, Southwark. There is also no table of contents in the collection, and the stories start one right after the other, often with only one title page separating them that is decorated with a beautiful illustration. At the beginning of Manfredi, there is a detailed watercolor illustration captioned “Altieri’s Re-encounter with the Hermit,” with the title and the publisher on the same page.
The book is 18 centimeters by 11 centimeters, with a sturdy, well-made cover. The binding is made of leather, and it is clearly worn from frequent reading because there are superficial, vertical cracks down the entirety of the spine. The front and back covers are made of marbled paper that has been rubbed away in the center of both sides. There are leather accents on the corners of the cover that seem to be in good condition. The pages themselves are thin, yellow, and feel brittle. One has the urge to treat them with great care and patience so as to not tear them. The margins on the sides and bottom are 1 centimeter each, and the top margin is 2 centimeters. In the middle of the top margin is the page number, which is large in comparison with the rest of the text. The text is dense and rather small, but not extremely tiny. The only other notable characteristic of the book is that there is a translucent, thin piece of paper inserted on pages 15–16 to mend a tear. Overall, the book can easily be described as worn, high-quality, understated, and beautiful.
The publisher of Manfredi, Or the Mysterious Hermit is London-based G. Stevens, who published many other books, including The Maid and the Magpie: an Interesting Tale Founded on Facts and A Trip to the Fair, Or, A Present for a Good Child. The Maid and the Magpie was published in 1815 or 1816, and A Trip to the Fair was published somewhere between 1810 and 1819. There have been two versions of Manfredi, Or the Mysterious Hermit published, one in the 1790s and one in the 1800s. The printer of the 1790s edition, as noted at the bottom of the last page, is Ann Kemmish. There is no known author, illustrator, or editor. There is one visible difference between the two editions, in that library catalogs frequently credit Sarah Lansdell as the author of the 1790s edition. In actuality, Sarah Lansdell was not the author of this text. She instead wrote a different book entitled, Manfredi, Baron St. Osmund, An Old English Romance in 1796 which encompasses two volumes, each of which take up about 200 pages. This is in direct contrast with Manfredi, Or the Mysterious Hermit, an Interesting and Original Romance, which takes up only 32 pages. Sarah Lansdell’s longer version of the book provided a basis for the shorter, anonymous chapbook. As Angela Koch explains, longer versions of Gothic novels were written and frequently sold to wealthier buyers and libraries, while chapbooks were adapted from them and sold for a much lower price, usually sixpence or one shilling, to the general public. They were often directly plagiarized from the original texts by anonymous authors, and this text is no exception (Koch 21).
There is no preface or introduction in this book, only a title page with the publisher and an illustration.
There are epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter. The introductory chapter features epigraphs by William Cowper and William Shakespeare, though they are uncredited. William Cowper’s comes from his poem, “The Task” (1785):
Nor rural sights, but rural sounds
Exhilarate the spirit, and restore
The tone of languid Nature
Shakespeare’s quote is from the play Cymbeline (1623):
Being scarce made up
I mean, to man he had no apprehension
Of roaring errors; for defect of judgement
Is oft the cause of fear.
The quotes are slightly misstated, omitting the word “alone” after the word “sights” in the Cowper quote and exchanging “the effect” for “defect” in the Shakespeare quote. These quotes relate metaphorically to the content of the book, as do the rest of the epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter.
There were no reviews or advertisements published for this text, nor have there been any recent reprintings. As cheap literature—designed for quick entertainment, rather than as a longer, higher-quality novel—there has been little scholarly work on this text. There are a few texts related to Manfredi, but it is unlikely that they were based on the chapbook and more likely that they were based on the original novel by Sarah Lansdell. A play by William Barrymore was published in 1815 entitled Manfredi the Mysterious Hermit: A Romantic Melodrama in Two Acts, and was performed in New York at Fox’s Old Bowery Theatre in 1863 (“Manfredi, the Mysterious Hermit”). WorldCat lists another play published anonymously in 1841 called Manfredi, or, the Mysterious Hermit: in two acts; the original is held at the British Library. There are no contemporary digital copies of this text, but there is an archival copy of a scan of the Chapter 1 introductory page on WorldCat. Additionally, there is a digital copy of Manfredi, Baron St. Osmund. An old English Romance. In two volumes by Sarah Lansdell on the database Eighteenth Century Collections Online.
Narrative Point of View
Manfredi, or the Mysterious Hermit, an Interesting and Original Romance has a straightforward narrative style. The third-person, omniscient narrator is not a character in the text but has consistent knowledge of and sometimes opinions on the actions of the primary characters and the events of the story. The story is not told from a purely objective, detached viewpoint, but one that is colored by the opinions of the anonymous narrator. The style of narration feels like relaxed, conversational storytelling. The sentences are densely packed with information in shorter, plain sentences that focus more on the events of the story than complex language, possibly because this book was plagiarized from a much longer version of the story. The narrator gives some insight into the feelings of the characters, but it is told matter-of-factly in the same manner as the events of the story.
PETER according to his promise hastened to the garden of the palace, “Ah” said he “tired of staying—these Indian manners, do not suit us Englishmen—Mr. Hermit seems too genteel to keep lis [sic.] time.” While he was indulging himself, a servnt [sic.] passed. “Where are you going” enquired Peer, “Going” answered the man, “did you never knay [sic.] a lady in a hurry when she was going to be married? I seek the Marquis.” “I can assure you he is not at this part of the garden, but see comes this way.” “My Lord.” said the man, anessing [sic.] Alteri, “the ceremony awaits your presence.” “Ah,” he said mournfully, “a few moments repite [sic.], the air of this garden, refreshes me and will make me more cheerful for the ceremony.” Then tuning [sic.] to Hugo, he enquired, “What makes your father eye me so,—does he suspect aught: Peter, me honest friend, can I serve you.”— “No my Lord, nor can I serve you—I am honest,” replied, the suspecting fisherman; “Be cautious, father, or you’ll offend the Marquis,” said Hugo— “Be cautious Hugo” retorted Peter, “or you’ll offend your father.” With this unpalatable speech, he left the garden, and Alteri, fearful of offending the powerful Marquis Vincenza and his beautiful daughter, went to fulfil the vows which he tought [sic.] would purchase his future bliss. (16)
This passage uses a concise, informative narrative style to maintain clarity and provide the audience with the most succinct description possible. This has the effect of making sure that the text is not too long or unwieldy. The use of quotes and description of the characters’ feelings appeals to relatable emotions and interesting dialogue that is frequently engaging and interesting. Similarly, the use of dramatic language makes for a gripping narrative.
Manfredi, or the Mysterious Hermit, an Interesting and Original Romance opens with a description of the castle of Vincenza, which is on a lake in Italy. A nice man who honored the family line owned the castle, and he remained dignified but still treated the peasants well. He married a nice woman and had a kind, intelligent daughter named Marcelina. The neighboring Marquis Altieri wants to marry Marcelina.
A mysterious hermit lives across the lake from them, and the ferryman Peter recognizes him. Peter’s wife is Paulina, his daughter is Jacintha, and his son is Hugo, who works for Marquis Altieri. A rough, yet charming young man named Stephano who likes Jacintha wants to know who the hermit is. Peter comes home and tells them that he found a portrait of Olivia Altieri, Marquis Altieri’s first wife, in the hermit’s house. Hugo takes it from him, saying that he is going to put it back in the hermit’s house because stealing is wrong, while Stephano sets off to learn about the hermit. The hermit comes to see Peter and accuses him of stealing the portrait from his house, to which Peter replies that it is being put back and confronts him about it looking like Olivia Altieri. The hermit says Marquis Altieri is a villain and will prove it if he comes to the garden at one in the morning. Following this, the hermit brings Olivia, who is miraculously still alive, into his cave. Stephano watches secretly from the side. They talk about how Marcelina is going to be another victim of Marquis Altieri if the marriage goes through, but Manfredi, the hermit, has a plan to expose him to the world as a terrible person. Olivia only wishes that he spares his life because he is still her husband.
Meanwhile, Hugo brings the portrait of Olivia Altieri to Marquis Altieri, not the hermit’s house, and tells him that Olivia is still alive living with Manfredi. They collude that they must disguise themselves to go to the hermit and kill her. Stephano, ever ill-mannered, is in Manfredi’s house beginning to eat his food and make himself comfortable when he hears Hugo’s voice outside the door and hides while Marquis Altieri and Hugo come in and search the house. Manfredi comes home and knows someone is inside from the disturbance in the entryway. Stephano reveals himself to Manfredi and warns him that the Marquis is there and he is in danger. Manfredi gives Olivia to him, telling him to guard her and take her away with him. Manfredi and the Marquis talk, and the Marquis asks him if Olivia is alive and if anyone else knows. Manfredi says only he and a peasant know, then calls him by his name, exposing his disguise, and says he will see him tomorrow. The Marquis is terrified for his life. Hugo rushes Manfredi, but he is prepared and pulls two pistols and retreats to the back of the cave. Hugo wants to chase him, but their guns aren’t loaded anymore and his are.
Stephano and Olivia make it to the cottage and Jacintha tries to visit but Stephano teases her and won’t let her in because Olivia is there. She becomes upset and pretends to leave but actually stays to eavesdrop. Stephano recognizes that she is upset but doesn’t take it seriously. Jacintha hears Stephano presume that he can win her forgiveness by crying in front of her and pretending to kill himself and sees Olivia through the window, which causes her to get extremely jealous and vow revenge. Manfredi arrives at Stephano’s cottage and reveals his plan to save Marcelina.
The next day, Peter comes to the garden and finds the Marquis. He pretends like he doesn’t suspect anything, but is curt. The Marquis goes to the wedding. Everyone is at the wedding, and it is beautiful but very solemn. Marcelina’s father promises her and his property to Marquis Altieri. Just then, a stranger bursts in and says the Marquis has forgotten Olivia, then sits down to stay when pressed by the Marquis to reveal how he knows this. It turns out the stranger was originally paid to kill Olivia but it didn’t happen. The Marquis says in confidence that it still can and tells him to meet him at the ruins. Peter bursts into the wedding with a letter to Vincenza stating that Olivia is alive and the Marquis is a villain. He denies it and demands to know where the accuser is. On cue, Manfredi comes in and says he can produce Olivia, and the wedding is postponed.
The Marquis plots to ally himself with banditti to find Olivia before Manfredi can produce her. The Marquis and Hugo want to befriend the hermit, but the stranger says they must repent for that to happen. They reply that they never will and try to kill him but he’s too strong. He throws the Marquis on the ground and warns him to beware of tomorrow. He warns that Olivia is going to betray the Marquis.
The banditti and the hit man Spaldro begin their search. They find Jacintha and use her jealousy of Olivia to get her to reveal that she is in the cabin with Stephano. They find Olivia and are going to murder her there but decide that they don’t want to do it in front of Jacintha. They then try to move to the woods, but are stopped by Stephano and Jacintha. Stephano sends Jacintha to the castle to warn Marcelina’s father. Hugo stabs the stranger and leaves him to die on the ground.
An aside is given to the reader that explains the history between Manfredi and Olivia. It states that D’Estalla was a respected name in Tuscany, and that the count with that name had two respected sons who were best friends. The elder one provided well for the younger even though he inherited all of the wealth. They each married and had a child with high-status women from the court, who were Olivia and Manfredi. Manfredi’s mother died following his birth, and his father died of grief soon after, so he was raised with Olivia. He grew to love her romantically, not as a sister, but she didn’t love him back and instead liked Altieri. They were married and it was okay for a while, but then he wanted to marry Marcelina for money because he lost everything gambling. The count was ill and entrusted the care of Olivia to Manfredi because he strongly distrusts the Marquis. Manfredi disguised himself as Spaldro, the hit man, and instead of killing Olivia hid her away with him.
Coming back to the present day, Stephano gets into the castle using Hugo’s name, then lets down the gates to let Peter in. He is stopped by Hugo who also wants to come in, but he won’t let him. It turns out that Manfredi is wounded but not dead, and comes to find them. The banditti betray the Marquis by not killing Olivia. Hugo and the Marquis are so desperate to find Olivia that they vow to set the castle on fire if they don’t capture her. Peter and Stephano use a boat in the moat to linger beneath the window of Olivia’s cell with a crowbar. The Marquis is about to fire a cannon on the castle with the explosive charges lain but then sees them escaping with his wife! In the confusion he still orders Hugo to fire, and unable to disobey his master, he does. Olivia, Peter, and Stephano escape from the fire while Manfredi fights viciously and kills the Marquis.
In the end, Olivia is very sad over her husband dying but eventually agrees to marry Manfredi. Marcelina marries a man from France, and Hugo dies along with the other people who fought against Manfredi. Stephano and Jacintha get married. Manfredi’s house is revered by everyone across the land who learns the story, and Olivia builds a church there to commemorate her savior. A pious recluse begins to live in Manfredi’s old house.
Barrymore, William. Manfredi the Mysterious Hermit: A Romantic Melodrama in Two Acts. London, 1815. 1970. Print.
Koch, Angela. “Gothic Bluebooks in the Princely Library of Corvey and Beyond.” Cardiff Corvey: Reading the Romantic Text, Issue 9 (Dec. 2002), pp. 5–25.
Manfredi, or The Mysterious Hermit, an Interesting and Original Romance, London, G. Stevens, 1790s.
Manfredi, Or, the Mysterious Hermit: In Two Acts. London, Submitted to Lord Chamberlain, 1841.
“Manfredi, the mysterious hermit.” Music in Gotham: The New York Scene 1862–75, CUNY Graduate Center. https://www.musicingotham.org/work/11973
Researcher: Katie G. Coleman