|Matthew "Monk" Gregory Lewis by Henry William Pickersgill, 1809|
Back in the early days of the salon I told the tale of Matthew "Monk" Lewis, celebrated purveyor of literary gothic and erstwhile Member of Parliament. Today marks a somewhat sadder anniversary as we mark the passing of Lewis, though in suitably gothic style, he would not go quietly to his grave.
Lewis was the owner of a large and profitable sugar plantation in Jamaica and these experiences would posthumously be immortalised in Journal of a West India Proprietor, published in 1833. The author visited his plantation now and again to observe the workings and oversee the business and it was on one of these trips that fate dealt him a most displeasing hand.
Not long before he was due to leave Jamaica and return to England in 1818, the author contracted yellow fever. Dangerously ill, he sailed for home and as the ship left Jamaica in the distance, Lewis began to deteriorate. He died during that final voyage and it was decided that a burial at sea would be the most appropriate method of disposal so Matthew Lewis was prepared for his final journey.
As the coffin sank beneath the waves the weights that had been fastened to it slipped loose and fell clean off. The unweighted coffin bobbed merrily back to the surface and as the ship sailed on for England, the mortal remains of Matthew "Monk" Lewis were last seen floating off in the direction of Jamaica.