Charles Robert Maturin, also known as C. R. Maturin, an Irish Protestant clergyman ordained in the Church of Ireland and a writer of Gothic plays and novels, is born in Dublin on September 25, 1780. His best known work is the novel Melmoth the Wanderer.
Maturin is descended from Huguenots who found shelter in Ireland, one of whom is Gabriel Jacques Maturin who becomes Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, after Jonathan Swift in 1745. He attends Trinity College Dublin. Shortly after being ordained as curate of Loughrea, County Galway, in 1803, he moves back to Dublin as curate of St. Peter’s Church. He lives in York Street with his father William, a Post Office official, and his mother, Fedelia Watson. He marries the acclaimed singer Henrietta Kingsbury on October 7, 1804.
Maturin’s first three works are Gothic novels published under the pseudonym Dennis Jasper Murphy, and are critical and commercial failures. They do, however, catch the attention of Sir Walter Scott, who recommends Maturin’s work to Lord Byron. With their help, his play Bertram is staged in 1816 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane for 22 nights, with Edmund Kean starring in the lead role as Bertram. Financial success, however, eludes Maturin, as the play’s run coincides with his father’s unemployment and another relative’s bankruptcy, both of them assisted by the fledgling writer. To make matters worse, Samuel Taylor Coleridge publicly denounces the play as dull and loathsome, and “melancholy proof of the depravation of the public mind,” going nearly so far as to decry it as atheistic.
The Church of Ireland takes note of these and earlier criticisms and, having discovered the identity of Bertram‘s author after Maturin had shed his nom de plume to collect the profits from the play, subsequently bar his further clerical advancement. Forced to support his wife and four children by writing on his curate salary of £80-90 per annum, compared to the £1000 he made for Bertram, he switches back from playwright to novelist after a string of his plays meet with failure. He produces several novels in addition to Melmoth the Wanderer, including some on Irish subjects and The Albigenses, a historical novel which features werewolves. Various poems have also been ascribed to Maturin on dubious grounds and appear to be the work of others. The prize-winning “Lines on the Battle of Waterloo” is published in 1816 under the name of the university graduate John Shee. “The Universe” appears with Maturin’s name on the title page in 1821, but is now thought to be almost completely the work of James Wills.
The exaggerated effectiveness of Maturin’s preaching can be gauged from the two series of sermons that he publishes. On the occasion of the death of Princess Charlotte, he declares, “Life is full of death; the steps of the living cannot press the earth without disturbing the ashes of the dead – we walk upon our ancestors – the globe itself is one vast churchyard.” A contemporary account records that there had seldom been seen such crowds at St Peter’s. “Despite the severe weather, people of all persuasions flocked to the church and listened spellbound to this prince of preachers. In his obituary it is said that, ‘did he leave no other monument whereon to rest his fame, these sermons alone would be sufficient.'”
Maturin dies in Dublin on October 30, 1824. A writer in the University Magazine later sums up his character as “eccentric almost to insanity and compounded of opposites – an insatiable reader of novels; an elegant preacher; an incessant dancer; a coxcomb in dress and manners.”
A sister of Maturin’s wife marries Charles Elgee, whose daughter, Jane Francesca, becomes the mother of Oscar Wilde. Thus Charles Maturin is Oscar Wilde’s great-uncle by marriage. Wilde discards his own name and adopts the name of Maturin’s novel, Melmoth, during his exile in France.
Maturin’s eldest son, William Basil Kingsbury Maturin, follows him into the ministry, as do several of his grandsons. One of these, Basil W. Maturin, dies in the sinking of RMS Lusitania on May 7, 1915. The second son is Edward Maturin, who emigrates to the United States and becomes a novelist and poet there.