Wednesday 9 June 2010

The Vampyre

Here's a lovely 'factual' piece from Reynold's Miscellany to chill the blood of any mid-Victorian young lady (or young man, for that matter).  It's from 1849 and contains all manner of interesting stuff (if you're interested in vampires) The author is one Frederick George Lee - who, it transpires, was a noted theologian and clergyman later in life, as well as penning a couple of books on the supernatural. At the time this article was written, he appears to have been only sixteen years old.

Did you know that you could become a vampire from eating infected beef? No, neither did I. Read on ...


Of all the superstitions that have from time to time terrified mankind, there is not one so revolting and disgusting as that regarding the vampyre. This blood-sucker has been pictured as "a ravenous corpse who rises in body and soul from the grave for the purpose of glutting his sanguinary appetite with the life-blood of those whose blood stagnates in his veins." He is endowed with an incorruptible frame to prey upon the lives of those of his nearest and dearest friends: he re-appears amongst them from the world of the tomb, not to tell the secrets of "joy or of woe,"—not to warn by his experience,— but to appal and assassinate those of his friends who were once dear to him;— and this, not for the gratification of any human feeling or revenge, but to feast a monstrous thirst after blood acquired in the tomb. Wasting illness, followed by death, was not all the punishment the victim had to suffer. He who was sucked by this monster, was in his turn compelled to become a member of this blood-thirsty community, and to inflict on others the same torments and evils he himself had endured. The vampyre not only sucked the blood of human beings but fed on that of cattle, to which he was supposed to communicate his  infections and loathsome disorder; so that if any one were unlucky enough to eat the flesh of cattle that had been sucked, he would, after death, be certain to become a member of the sanguinary fraternity.
     This horrible superstition was at its height in the beginning: of the eighteenth century. The peasants of Poland, Hungary,- Russia, and Germany, all believed in it; and the result was the greatest terror amongst that population. In many countries the belief was not confined to what is called the "lower classes:" all partook of it. Military and ecelesiastical commissions were appointed to examine: the facts; and whole countries rung with accounts of the ravages said to be committed by this infernal being.
    We quote from a translation of a foreign work the following mode which was employed in Germany, for the detection of vampyres:— "On a black horse they mounted a young male child, and compelled, them to gallop to and fro in the churchyard; and wherever the animal refused to proceed, they concluded that grave to contain a vampyre. Then they proceeded to remove the earth, and found a corpse to all appearance sleeping: the eyes half-closed, the face of a bright vermilion colour, the hair and. nails long, the limbs flexible, and the pulse beating.. By cutting off the head and filling up the trench, they supposed all danger to be removed; and those who had been attacked, with care obtained their usual strength."
    Other books on the subject, however, state that no village or town could be dispossessed of this nuisance until the creature was burned; during which time the spectators dipped leaves of rosemary into oil and sprinkled the charred body.
    Some authors affirm that this superstition owes its foundation to an ancient monastic legend which states that a certain Italian saint raised a young man from the grave in order that he should become a witness on behalf of the saint in a court of justice, after which he returned quietly to the solemn stillness of his tomb. In this instance, however, the satanic ferocity is in no way manifest, and therefore cannot exemplify that part of the vampyre's horrid conduct.
    In an article which appeared in a contemporary, the writer states, and with good foundation, that this superstition may be traced to the east. He brings forward a story related in that volume of interesting and extraordinary adventures "The Arabian Nights' Entertainments,"—which serves to show the similarity between the eastern European superstition—the likeness between the goule and the vampyre.
    For ourselves, we consider the superstition to have arisen from the actual ferocity of an animal known in. Africa and some parts of Asia,—we allude to the bat of Africa (Vespertilio Vampyrus), of which we will proceed to give a short description:— "This animal, which strongly resembles the common English bat in form, although perhaps ten times the size; its head is of a dark brown colour; its skin, which appears hard and thick, is of a greenish cast, and reflects beautiful colours in the sun's rays. The wings of the animal, which are very delicate and slender, appear like many coats of the spiders' web laid one upon the other, are used to fan the faces of its victim, whilst it inserts its two long fangs in the vein of some sleeping native—thereby producing a delicious coolness around, which renders repose the sweeter until the sufferer awakes in eternity."
    In this there certainly is a great resemblance to the superstition before related: but from a work published some time ago we quote a passage which throws still farther light upon the general features of the frightful belief:— "From the year 1730 to the year 1735, vampyres formed the general topic of argument and speculation. Pamphlets were published on them — the journals continually detailed fresh prodigies achieved by them—the philosophers scoffed at them—sovereigns sent-officers and.commissioners to iuquice into their terrific proceedings. Hungary, Poland, Silesia, Bohemia and Moravia , were the favourite scenes of :their appearance and exploits. The people of these countries, sunk in the: most abject ignorance, and living in a  condition and on a.coarse food, little above the brutes, placed implicit faith in these wonders. A vampyre haunted and tormented almost every village. Deceased fathers and mothers, who had reposed for years in their grave, appeared again at their dwellings, knocked at their doors, sat down to table in silence, ate little or nothing, sometimes nodded significantly at some unfortunate relation in token of their approaching death, struck them on the back, or sprang on their bellies or throats, and sucked draughts of blood from their veins. In general, however, this last consummation of vampyrism was left as an inference from the other facts; and the statement was, that certain. men or women of the village grew pale, and gradually wasted away — young girls in the flower of health lost the roses of their cheeks, and sank into rapid and premature decay — then an apparition of some deceased individual was seen, and. suspicion instantly fixed on him or her as the cause. The grave of the apparition was resorted to — where the corpse was invariably found fresh and well-preserved: the eyes open, or only half closed — the face vermilion coloured — the hair and nails long —the limbs supple and unstiffened — the heart beating. Nothing more was necessary to fix on the body the crime of vampyrism, and to attach to it the guilt of having drained the streams of life from all the pale youths and hectic maidens in thb vicinity. Some judicial forms were, however, often observed before proceeding to inflict the last penalty of justice on the offender. Witnesses were examined as to the facts alleged; the corpse was drawn from its grave, and handled, and inspected; and if the blood was found fluid in the veins, the members supple, and the flesh free from putrescence, a conviction of vampyrism passed—the executioner proceeded to amputate the head, extract the heart, or sometimes to drive a stake through it, or a nail through the temples, and then the body was burnt and its ashes dispersed to the wind. Burning was found the only infallible mode of divorcing the spirit from the frame of these pertinacious corpses. Impalement of the heart, which had been long considered to be the means of fixing evil and vagrant spirits to the tomb, and which in the case of suicides, our own law has barbarously retained from the days of superstition, was often ineffectual. A herdsman of Blow near Kadam, in Bohemia, on undergoing this ceremony, laughed at the executioners, and returned them many thanks for giving him a stake to defend himself against the dogs. The same night he arose to his nocturnal meal, and suffocated more persons than he had ever attacked before his impalement. He was at last exhumed and carried out of the village: On being again pierced with stakes he cried out most lustily — sent forth blood of a brilliant erubescence — and was at last finally quelled by being burnt to cinders."
   This incident, with many other similar narratives, is related in' a work called "Magia Posthuma," by Charles Ferdinand Schertz, dedicated to Prince Charles of Lorraine, Bishop of Olmutz, and printed at Olmutz in 1706.
    In a canton of Hungary, near the famous Tockay, and between the river Tessie and Transylvania, the people called the Heiduques were possessed by a firm conviction of the powers of vampyres. About 1727, a certain Heiduque, an inhabitant of Medreiga, named Arnold Paul, was crushed to death under a load of hay. .Thirty days afterwards four persons of the village died suddenly with all the symptoms indicative' of death by vampyrism. The people; puzzled and eager to discover the vampyre delinquent, at last recollected that Arnold Paul had often related how, in the environs of Casova on the frontiers of Turkish Servia, he had been tormented, and worried by a Turkish vampyre. This according to the fundamental laws of vampyrism should have converted Arnold into a vampyre in his grave; for all those who are passive vampyres on earth, invariably become vampyres active when they descend to the tomb. Arnold Paul, had, however, always stated that he had preserved himself from the attacks of the Turkish vampyre by eating some of the earth of his grave; and by embrocating himself with :his blood. These: precautions appeared, however, to be fruitless; for the inhabitants of Medreiga, on opening his tomb, forty days after his death, found upon him all the undoubted indices of an archvampyre — his corpse ruddy, his nails elengated; his veins swelling:with a sanguinary tide which oozed from his pores and covered his shroud and winding-sheet. The bailiff of the place proceeded to impale Arnold through the heart; on which he sent forth horrid cries with all the energy of a  living subject. His head was then cut off and his body burnt. Similar execution was then performed on the four deceased persons, the supposed victims of Arnolds' attacks; and.the Heiduques fancied themselves in safety from these terrific persecutors. Five years afterwards however, the same fatal prodigies reappeared. During the space of three months, seventeen persons of different ages and sexes died with all the old diagnostics — some without any visible malady — others, after several days of languor and :atrophy. Amongst others a girl named Stanosky, daughter of the Heiduque Stotutitzo, went one night to rest in perfect health, but awoke in the middle of the night; shrieking and trembling violently: she asserted that the son of the Heiduqe Millo, who had died nine weeks before, had. attacked her in her sleep, and had nearly strangled her with his grasp. Heiduque Millo's son was instantly charged with vampyrism. The .magistrates, physicians, and surgeons of the parish repaired to his grave, and found his body with all the usual characteristics of animation and.imputrescence, but they were at a loss to understand from what channel he had derived his faculties. At last it was discovered that the exhausted vampyre, Arnold Paul, had strangled, not only the four deceased persons but also a number of cattle, whose flesh had,been plentifully eaten by Millo's son and other villagers. This discovery threw the Heiduques into fresh consternation, and afforded, a horrid prospect of an indefinite renewal of the horrors of vampyrism. It was resolved: to open the tombs of all those who bad been buried since the flesh was consumed. Among forty corpses, seventeen were found with all the indubitable characteristics of confirmed vampyres. The bodies were speedily decapitated, the heads impaled, and the members burnt and their ashes cast into the river Teisse. The AbbĂ© Dom. Calmet inquired into these facts, :and found them all judicially authenticated by local authorities, and attested by the officers of the.imperial garrisons, the surgeon majors of the regiments; and the principal inhabitants of the district. The account of the whole proceedings was sent in January 1735 to the Imperial Council of War at Vienna, who had established a military commission to inquire into the facts.

Reynolds Miscellany, January 20, 1849

1 comment:

  1. An extremely competent and well written account if the author was but 16 at the time.

    It is interesting that he recounts events impartially with no more than a hint here and there that some people regard the vampire as a mere superstition.

    Assuming that it is true that at least some anecdotes were "judicially authenticated", it would be interesting to know whether there were any epidemics around these times that could have accounted for people wasting away and dying. It seems also that only rarely did the "victims" themselves claim to have been attacked by vampires. This was inferred later by investigators who "proved" the hypothesis by finding bodies in an unusual state of preservation. There is also probably some banal explanation for this also (unless it too is merely due to imagination or later embellishment of reports).