The Monkby Matthew Gregory Lewis, for ever after known as ‘Monk’ Lewis, was a notorious book from the time of its first publication. The story revolves around the relationship between the monk of the title, Ambrosio, and the woman, Matilda who both loves him and tricks him into a sexual relationship with her, in what was described at the time as “a lewd and blasphemous book.”
The first edition is dated 1796 but is thought by some commentators to be published, in three volumes, in late 1795, when Lewis was only 19 years old. In that edition, the author is only identified by the initials M.G.L. In late 1796, after initially favourable reviews, second and third editions were published which identified the author as M.G. Lewis Esq. M.P., for Lewis had been elected to parliament at the age of 20 in 1796.
In 1797, Samuel Taylor Coleridge published a highly critical review, which condemned the book as one likely to corrupt the reader. In response to this, Lewis edited the book, removing the equivalent of 17 pages of his most extreme writing for the fourth edition published in 1798. Most 19thcentury editions were further expurgated by other hands.
Any one of the first three editions of 1796 are desirable to the collector. The title page of the first volume of my second edition of October 1796 is shown below.