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Title:      Supernatural Horror in Literature
Author:     H.P. Lovecraft
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Title:      Supernatural Horror in Literature
Author:     H.P. Lovecraft


THE OLDEST and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and
strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. These facts few
psychologists will dispute, and their admitted truth must establish for
all time the genuineness and dignity of the weirdly horrible tale as a
literary form. Against it are discharged all the shafts of a
materialistic sophistication which clings to frequently felt emotions and
external events, and of a navely insipid idealism which deprecates the
sthetic motive and calls for a didactic literature to "uplift" the
reader toward a suitable degree of smirking optimism. But in spite of all
this opposition the weird tale has survived, developed, and attained
remarkable heights of perfection; founded as it is on a profound and
elementary principle whose appeal, if not always universal, must
necessarily be poignant and permanent to minds of the requisite

The appeal of the spectrally macabre is generally narrow because it
demands from the reader a certain degree of imagination and a capacity
for detachment from everyday life. Relatively few are free enough from
the spell of the daily routine to respond to tappings from outside, and
tales of ordinary feelings and events, or of common sentimental
distortions of such feelings and events, will always take first place in
the taste of the majority; rightly, perhaps, since of course these
ordinary matters make up the greater part of human experience. But the
sensitive are always with us, and sometimes a curious streak of fancy
invades an obscure corner of the very hardest head; so that no amount of
rationalisation, reform, or Freudian analysis can quite annul the thrill
of the chimney-corner whisper or the lonely wood. There is here involved
a psychological pattern or tradition as real and as deeply grounded in
mental experience as any other pattern or tradition of mankind; coeval
with the religious feeling and closely related to many aspects of it, and
too much a part of our innermost biological heritage to lose keen potency
over a very important, though not numerically great, minority of our

Man's first instincts and emotions formed his response to the environment
in which he found himself. Definite feelings based on pleasure and pain
grew up around the phenomena whose causes and effects he understood,
whilst around those which he did not understand--and the universe teemed
with them in the early days--were naturally woven such personifications,
marvelous interpretations, and sensations of awe and fear as would be hit
upon by a race having few and simple ideas and limited experience. The
unknown, being likewise the unpredictable, became for our primitive
forefathers a terrible and omnipotent source of boons and calamities
visited upon mankind for cryptic and wholly extra-terrestrial reasons,
and thus clearly belonging to spheres of existence whereof we know
nothing and wherein we have no part. The phenomenon of dreaming likewise
helped to build up the notion of an unreal or spiritual world; and in
general, all the conditions of savage dawn--life so strongly conduced
toward a feeling of the supernatural, that we need not wonder at the
thoroughness with which man's very hereditary essence has become
saturated with religion and superstition. That saturation must, as a
matter of plain scientific fact, be regarded as virtually permanent so
far as the subconscious mind and inner instincts are concerned; for
though the area of the unknown has been steadily contracting for
thousands of years, an infinite reservoir of mystery still engulfs most
of the outer cosmos, whilst a vast residuum of powerful inherited
associations clings round all the objects and processes that were once
mysterious; however well they may now be explained. And more than this,
there is an actual physiological fixation of the old instincts in our
nervous tissue, which would make them obscurely operative even were the
conscious mind to be purged of all sources of wonder.

Because we remember pain and the menace of death more vividly than
pleasure, and because our feelings toward the beneficent aspects of the
unknown have from the first been captured and formalised by conventional
religious rituals, it has fallen to the lot of the darker and more
maleficent side of cosmic mystery to figure chiefly in our popular
supernatural folklore. This tendency, too, is naturally enhanced by the
fact that uncertainty and danger are always closely allied; thus making
any kind of an unknown world a world of peril and evil possibilities.
When to this sense of fear and evil the inevitable fascination of wonder
and curiosity is superadded, there is born a composite body of keen
emotion and imaginative provocation whose vitality must of necessity
endure as long as the human race itself. Children will always be afraid
of the dark, and men with minds sensitive to hereditary impulse will
always tremble at the thought of the hidden and fathomless worlds of
strange life which may pulsate in the gulfs beyond the stars, or press
hideously upon our own globe in unholy dimensions which only the dead and
the moonstruck can glimpse.

With this foundation, no one need wonder at the existence of a literature
of cosmic fear. It has always existed, and always will exist; and no
better evidence of its tenacious vigour can be cited than the impulse
which now and then drives writers of totally opposite leanings to try
their hands at it in isolated tales, as if to discharge from their minds
certain phantasmal shapes which would otherwise haunt them. Thus Dickens
wrote several eerie narratives; Browning, the hideous poem Childe Roland;
Henry James, The Turn of the Screw; Dr. Holmes, the subtle novel Elsie
Venner; F. Marion Crawford, The Upper Berth and a number of other
examples; Mrs. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, social worker, The Yellow Wall
Paper; whilst the humorist, W. W. Jacobs, produced that able melodramatic
bit called The Monkey's Paw.

This type of fear-literature must not be confounded with a type
externally similar but psychologically widely different; the literature
of mere physical fear and the mundanely gruesome. Such writing, to be
sure, has its place, as has the conventional or even whimsical or
humorous ghost story where formalism or the author's knowing wink removes
the true sense of the morbidly unnatural; but these things are not the
literature of cosmic fear in its purest sense. The true weird tale has
something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form
clanking chains according to rule. A certain atmosphere of breathless and
unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there
must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming
its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain--a
malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature
which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the
daeligmons of unplumbed space.

Naturally we cannot expect all weird tales to conform absolutely to any
theoretical model. Creative minds are uneven, and the best of fabrics
have their dull spots. Moreover, much of the choicest weird work is
unconscious; appearing in memorable fragments scattered through material
whose massed effect may be of a very different cast. Atmosphere is the
all-important thing, for the final criterion of authenticity is not the
dovetailing of a plot but the creation of a given sensation. We may say,
as a general thing, that a weird story whose intent is to teach or
produce a social effect, or one in which the horrors are finally
explained away by natural means, is not a genuine tale of cosmic fear;
but it remains a fact that such narratives often possess, in isolated
sections, atmospheric touches which fulfill every condition of true
supernatural horror-literature. Therefore we must judge a weird tale not
by the author's intent, or by the mere mechanics of the plot; but by the
emotional level which it attains at its least mundane point. If the
proper sensations are excited, such a "high spot" must be admitted on its
own merits as weird literature, no matter how prosaically it is later
dragged down. The one test of the really weird is simply this--whether of
not there be excited in the reader a profound sense of dread, and of
contact with unknown spheres and powers; a subtle attitude of awed
listening, as if for the beating of black wings or the scratching of
outside shapes and entities on the known universe's utmost rim. And of
course, the more completely and unifiedly a story conveys this atmosphere
the better it is as a work of art in the given medium.


AS may naturally be expected of a form so closely connected with primal
emotion, the horror-tale is as old as human thought and speech

Cosmic terror appears as an ingredient of the earliest folklore of all
races, and is crystallised in the most archaic ballads, chronicles, and
sacred writings. It was, indeed, a prominent feature of the elaborate
ceremonial magic, with its rituals for the evocation of dmons and
spectres, which flourished from prehistoric times, and which reached its
highest development in Egypt and the Semitic nations. Fragments like the
Book of Enoch and the Claviculae of Solomon well illustrate the power of
the weird over the ancient Eastern mind, and upon such things were based
enduring systems and traditions whose echoes extend obscurely even to the
present time. Touches of this transcendental fear are seen in classic
literature, and there is evidence of its still greater emphasis in a
ballad literature which paralleled the classic stream but vanished for
lack of a written medium. The Middle Ages, steeped in fanciful darkness,
gave it an enormous impulse toward expression; and East and West alike
were busy preserving and amplifying the dark heritage, both of random
folklore and of academically formulated magic and cabalism, which had
descended to them. Witch, werewolf, vampire, and ghoul brooded ominously
on the lips of bard and grandam, and needed but little encouragement to
take the final step across the boundary that divides the chanted tale or
song from the formal literary composition. In the Orient, the weird tale
tended to assume a gorgeous colouring and sprightliness which almost
transmuted it into sheer phantasy. In the West, where the mystical Teuton
had come down from his black boreal forests and the Celt remembered
strange sacrifices in Druidic groves, it assumed a terrible intensity and
convincing seriousness of atmosphere which doubled the force of its
half-told, half-hinted horrors.

Much of the power of Western horror-lore was undoubtedly due to the
hidden but often suspected presence of a hideous cult of nocturnal
worshippers whose strange customs--descended from pre-Aryan and
pre-agricultural times when a squat race of Mongoloids roved over Europe
with their flocks and herds--were rooted in the most revolting
fertility-rites of immemorial antiquity. Ibis secret religion, stealthily
handed down amongst peasants for thousands of years despite the outward
reign of the Druidic, Graeco-Roman, and Christian faiths in the regions
involved, was marked by wild "Witches' Sabbaths" in lonely woods and atop
distant hills on Walpurgis-Night and Hallowe'en, the traditional
breeding-seasons of the goats and sheep and cattle; and became the source
of vast riches of sorcery-legend, besides provoking extensive
witchcraft--prosecutions of which the Salem affair forms the chief
American example. Akin to it in essence, and perhaps connected with it in
fact, was the frightful secret system of inverted theology or
Satan-worship which produced such horrors as the famous "Black Mass";
whilst operating toward the same end we may note the activities of those
whose aims were somewhat more scientific or philosophical--the
astrologers, cabalists, and alchemists of the Albertus Magnus or Ramond
Lully type, with whom such rude ages invariably abound. The prevalence
and depth of the medival horror-spirit in Europe, intensified by the
dark despair which waves of pestilence brought, may be fairly gauged by
the grotesque carvings slyly introduced into much of the finest later
Gothic ecclesiastical work of the time; the dmoniac gargoyles of Notre
Dame and Mont St. Michel being among the most famous specimens. And
throughout the period, it must be remembered, there existed amongst
educated and uneducated alike a most unquestioning faith in every form of
the supernatural; from the gentlest doctrines of Christianity to the most
monstrous morbidities of witchcraft and black magic. It was from no empty
background that the Renaissance magicians and alchemists--Nostradamus,
Trithemius, Dr. John Dee, Robert Fludd, and the like--were born.

In this fertile soil were nourished types and characters of sombre myth
and legend which persist in weird literature to this day, more or less
disguised or altered by modern technique. Many of them were taken from
the earliest oral sources, and form part of mankind's permanent heritage.
The shade which appears and demands the burial of its bones, the dmon
lover who comes to bear away his still living bride, the death-fiend or
psychopomp riding the night-wind, the man-wolf, the sealed chamber, the
deathless sorcerer--all these may be found in that curious body of
medival lore which the late Mr. Baring-Gould so effectively assembled in
book form. Wherever the mystic Northern blood was strongest, the
atmosphere of the popular tales became most intense; for in the Latin
races there is a touch of basic rationality which denies to even their
strangest superstitions many of the overtones of glamour so
characteristic of our own forest-born and ice-fostered whisperings.

Just as all fiction first found extensive embodiment in poetry, so is it
in poetry that we first encounter the permanent entry of the weird into
standard literature. Most of the ancient instances, curiously enough, are
in prose; as the werewolf incident in Petronius, the gruesome passages in
Apuleius, the brief but celebrated letter of Pliny the Younger to Sura,
and the odd compilation On Wonderful Events by the Emperor Hadrian's
Greek freedman, Phlegon. It is in Phlegon that we first find that hideous
tale of the corpse-bride, Philinnion and Machates, later related by
Proclus and in modern times forming the inspiration of Goethe's Bride of
Corinth and Washington Irving's German Student. But by the time the old
Northern myths take literary form, and in that later time when the weird
appears as a steady element in the literature of the day, we find it
mostly in metrical dress; as indeed we find the greater part of the
strictly imaginative writing of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The
Scandinavian Eddas and Sagas thunder with cosmic horror, and shake with
the stark fear of Ymir and his shapeless spawn; whilst our own
Anglo-Saxon Beowulf and the later Continental Nibelung tales are full of
eldritcli weirdness. Dante is a pioneer in the classic capture of macabre
atmosphere, and in Spenser's stately stanzas will be seen more than a few
touches of fantastic terror in landscape, incident, and character. Prose
literature gives us Malory's Morte d'Arthur, in which are presented many
ghastly situations taken from early ballad sources--the theft of the
sword and silk from the corpse in Chapel Perilous by Sir Galahad--whilst
other and cruder specimens were doubtless set forth in the cheap and
sensational "chapbooks" vulgarly hawked about and devoured by the
ignorant. In Elizabethan drama, with its Dr. Faustus, the witches in
Macbeth, the ghost in Hamlet, and the horrible gruesomeness of Webster we
may easily discern the strong hold of the dmoniac: on the public mind; a
hold intensified by the very real fear of living witchcraft, whose
terrors, wildest at first on the Continent, begin to echo loudly in
English ears as the witch-hunting crusades of James the First gain
headway. To the lurking mystical prose of the ages is added a long line
of treatises on witchcraft and dmonology which aid in exciting the
imagination of the reading world.

Through the seventeenth and into the eighteenth century we behold a
growing mass of fugitive legendry and balladry of darksome cast; still,
however, held down beneath the surface of polite and accepted literature.
Chapbooks of horror and weirdness multiplied, and we glimpse the eager
interest of the people through fragments like Defoe's Apparition of Mrs.
Veal, a homely tale of a dead woman's spectral visit to a distant friend,
written to advertise covertly a badly selling theological disquisition on
death. The upper orders of society were now losing faith in the
supernatural, and indulging in a period of classic rationalism. Then,
beginning with the translations of Eastern tales in Queen Anne's reign
and taking definite form toward the middle of the century, comes the
revival of romantic feeling--the era of new joy in nature, and in the
radiance of past times, strange scenes, bold deeds, and incredible
marvels. We feel it first in the poets, whose utterances take on new
qualities of wonder, strangeness, and shuddering. And finally, after the
timid appearance of a few weird scenes in the novels of the day--such as
Smollett's Adventures of Ferdinand, Count Fathom--the release instinct
precipitates itself in the birth of a new school of writing; the "Gothic"
school of horrible and fantastic prose fiction, long and short, whose
literary posterity is destined to become so numerous, and in many cases
so resplendent in artistic merit. It is, when one reflects upon it,
genuinely remarkable that weird narration as a fixed and academically
recognized literary form should have been so late of final birth. The
impulse and atmosphere are as old as man, but the typical weird tale of
standard literature is a child of the eighteenth century.


THE shadow-haunted landscapes of Ossian, the chaotic visions of William
Blake, the grotesque witch dances in Burns's Tam O'Shanter, the sinister
dmonism of Coleridge's Christobel and Ancient Mariner, the ghostly charm
of James Hogg's Kilmeny, and the more restrained approaches to cosmic
horror in Lamia and many of Keats's other poems, are typical British
illustrations of the advent of the weird to formal literature. Our
Teutonic cousins of the Continent were equally receptive to the rising
flood, and Burger's Wild Huntsman and the even more famous
dmon-bridegroom ballad of Lenore--both imitated in English by Scott,
whose respect for the supernatural was always great--are only a taste of
the eerie wealth which German song had commenced to provide. Thomas Moore
adapted from such sources the legend of the ghoulish statue-bride (later
used by Prosper Merime in The Venus of Ille, and traceable back to great
antiquity) which echoes so shiveringly in his ballad of The Ring; whilst
Goethe's deathless masterpiece Faust, crossing from mere balladry into
the classic, cosmic tragedy of the ages, may be held as the ultimate
height to which this German poetic impulse arose.

But it remained for a very sprightly and worldly Englishman--none other
than Horace Walpole himself--to give the growing impulse definite shape
and become the actual founder of the literary horror-story as a permanent
form. Fond of medival romance and mystery as a dilettante's diversion,
and with a quaintly imitated Gothic castle as his abode at Strawberry
Hill, Walpole in 1764 published The Castle of Otranto; a tale of the
supernatural which, though thoroughly unconvincing and mediocre in
itself, was destined to exert an almost unparalleled influence on the
literature of the weird. First venturing it only as a "translation" by
one "William Marshal, Gent." from the Italian of a mythical "Onuphrio
Muralto," the author later acknowledged his connection with the book and
took pleasure in its wide and instantaneous popularity--a popularity
which extended to many editions, early dramatization, and wholesale
imitation both in England and in Germany.

The story--tedious, artificial, and melodramatic--is further impaired by
a brisk and prosaic style whose urbane sprightliness nowhere permits the
creation of a truly weird atmosphere. It tells of Manfred, an
unscrupulous and usurping prince determined to found a line, who after
the mysterious sudden death of his only son Conrad on the latter's bridal
morn, attempts to put away his wife Hippolita and wed the lady destined
for the unfortunate youth--the lad, by the way, having been crushed by
the preternatural fall of a gigantic helmet in the castle courtyard.
Isabella, the widowed bride, flees from his design; and encounters in
subterranean crypts beneath the castle a noble young preserver, Theodore,
who seems to be a peasant yet strangely resembles the old lord Alfonso
who ruled the domain before Manfred's time. Shortly thereafter
supernatural phenomena assail the castle in diverse ways; fragments of
gigantic armour being discovered here and therd, a portrait walking out
of its frame, a thunderclap destroying the edifice, and a colossal
armoured spectre of Alfonso rising out of the rains to ascend through
parting clouds to the bosom of St. Nicholas. Theodore, having wooed
Manfred's daughter Matilda and lost her through death--for she is slain
by her father by mistake--is discovered to be the son of Alfonso and
rightful heir to the estate. He concludes the tale by wedding Isabella
and preparing to live happily ever after, whilst Manfred--whose
usurpation was the cause of his son's supernatural death and his own
supernatural harassings--retires to a monastery for penitence; his
saddened wife seeking asylum in a neighbouring convent.

Such is the tale; flat stilted, and altogther devoid of the true cosmic
horror which makes weird literature. Yet such was the thirst of the age
for those touches of strangeness and spectral antiquity which it
reflects, that it was seriously received by the soundest readers and
raised in spite of its intrinsic ineptness to a pedestal of lofty
importance in literary history. What it did above all else was to create
a novel type of scene, puppet-characters, and incidents; which, handled
to better advantage by writers more naturally adapted to weird creation,
stimulated the growth of an imitative Gothic school which in turn
inspired the real weavers of cosmic terror--the line of actual artists
beginning with Poe. This novel dramatic paraphernalia consisted first of
all of the Gothic castle, with its awesome antiquity, vast distances and
famblings, deserted or ruined wings, damp corridors, unwholesome hidden
catacombs, and galaxy of ghosts and appalling legends, as a nucleus of
suspense and dmoniac fright. In addition, it included the tyrannical and
malevolent nobleman as villain; the saintly, long-persecuted, and
generally insipid heroine who undergoes the major terrors and serves as a
point of view and focus for the reader's sympathies; the valorous and
immaculate hero, always of high birth but often in humble disguise; the
convention of high-sounding foreign names, moistly Italian, for the
characters; and the infinite array of stage properties which includes
strange lights, damp trap-doors, extinguished lamps, mouldy hidden
manuscripts, creaking hinges, shaking arras, and the like. All this
paraphernalia reappears with amusing sameness, yet sometimes with
tremendous effect, throughout the history of the Gothic novel; and is by
no means extinct even today, though subtler technique now forces it to
assume a less naive and obvious form. An harmonious milieu for a new
school had been found, and the writing world was not slow to grasp the

German romance at once responded to the Walpole influence, and soon
became a byword for the weird and ghastly. In England one of the first
imitators was the celebrated Mrs. Barbauld, then Miss Aikin, who in 1773
published an unfinished fragment called Sir Bertrand, in which the
strings of genuine terror were truly touched with no clumsy hand. A
nobleman on a dark and lonely moor, attracted by a tolling bell and
distant light, enters a strange and ancient turreted castle whose doors
open and close and whose bluish will-o'-the-wisps lead up mysterious
staircases toward dead hands and animated black statues. A coffin with a
dead lady, whom Sir Bertrand kisses, is finally reached; and upon the
kiss the scene dissolves to give place to a splendid apartment where the
lady, restored to life, holds a banquet in honor of her rescuer. Walpole
admired this tale, though he accorded less respect to an even more
prominent offspring of his Otranto--The Old English Baron, by Clara
Reeve, published in 1777. Truly enough, this tale lacks the real
vibration to the note of outer darkness and mystery which distinguishes
Mrs. Barbauld's fragment; and though less crude than Walpole's novel, and
more artistically economical of horror in its possession of only one
spectral figure, it is nevertheless too definitely insipid for greatness.
Here again we have the virtuous heir to the castle disguised as a peasant
and restored to his heritage through the ghost of his father; and here
again we have a case of wide popularity leading to many editions,
dramatization, and ultimate translation into French. Miss Reeve wrote
another weird novel, unfortunately unpublished and lost.

The Gothic novel was now settled as a literary form, and instances
multiply bewilderingly as the eighteenth century draws toward its close.
The Recess, written in 1785 by Mrs. Sophia Lee, has the historic element,
revolving round the twin daughters of Mary, Queen of Scots; and though
devoid of the supernatural, employs the Walpole scenery and mechanism
with great dexterity. Five years later, and all existing lamps are paled
by the rising of a fresh luminary order--Mrs. Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823),
whose famous novels made terror and suspense a fashion, and who set new
and higher standards in the domain of macabre and fear-inspiring
atmosphere despite a provoking custom of destroying her own phantoms at
the last through labored mechanical explanations. To the familiar Gothic
trappings of her predecessors Mrs. Radcliffe added a genuine sense of the
unearthly in scene and incident which closely approached genius; every
touch of setting and action contributing artistically to the impression
of illimitable frightfulness which she wished to convey. A few sinister
details like a track of blood on castle stairs, a groan from a distant
vault, or a weird song in a nocturnal forest can with her conjure up the
most powerful images of imminent horror; surpassing by far the
extravagant and toilsome elaborations of others. Nor are these images in
themselves any the less potent because they are explained away before the
end of the novel. Mrs. Radcliffe's visual imagination was very strong,
and appears as much in her delightful landscape touches--always in broad,
glamorously pictorial outline, and never in close detail--as in her weird
phantasies. Her prime weaknesses, aside from the habit of prosaic
disillusionment, are a tendency toward erroneous geography and history
and a fatal predilection for bestrewing her novels with insipid little
poems, attributed to one or another of the characters.

Mrs. Radcliffe wrote six novels; The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne
(1789), A Sicilian Romance (1790), The Romance of the Forest (1792), The
Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), The Italian (1797), and Gaston de
Blondeville, composed in 1802 but first published posthumously in 1826.
Of these Udolpho is by far the most famous, and may be taken as a type of
the early Gothic tale at its best. It is the chronicle of Emily, a young
Frenchwoman transplanted to an ancient and portentous castle in the
Apennines through the death of her parents and the marriage of her aunt
to the lord of the castle--the scheming nobleman, Montoni. Mysterious
sounds, opened doors, frightful legends, and a nameless horror in a niche
behind a black veil all operate in quick succession to unnerve the
heroine and her faithful attendant, Annette; but finally, after the death
of her aunt, she escapes with the aid of a fellow-prisoner whom she has
discovered. On the way home she stops at a chateau filled with fresh
horrors--the abandoned wing where the departed chatelaine dwelt, and the
bed of death with the black pall--but is finally restored to security and
happiness with her lover Valancourt, after the clearing-up of a secret
which seemed for a time to involve her birth in mystery. Clearly, this is
only familiar material re-worked; but it is so well re-worked that
Udolpho will always be a classic. Mrs. Radcliffe's characters are
puppets, but they are less markedly so than those of her forerunners. And
in atmospheric creation she stands preminent among those of her time.

Of Mrs. Radcliffe's countless imitators, the American novelist Charles
Brockden Brown stands the closest in spirit and method. Like her, he
injured his creations by natural explanations; but also like her, he had
in uncanny atmospheric power which gives his horrors a frightful vitality
as long as they remain unexplained. He differed from her in
contemptuously discarding the external Gothic paraphernalia and
properties and choosing modern American scenes for his Mysteries; but
this repudiation did not extend to the Gothic spirit and type of
incident. Brown's novels involve some memorably frightful scenes, and
excel even Mrs. Radcliffe's in describing the operations of the perturbed
mind. Edgar Hunily starts with a sleep-walker digging a grave, but is
later impaired by touches of Godwinian didacticism. Ormond involves a
member of a sinister secret brotherhood. That and Arthur Mervyn both
describe the plague of yellow fever, which the author had witnessed in
Philadelphia and New York. But Brown's most famous book is Wieland; or,
the Transformation (1798), in which a Pennsylvania German, engulfed by a
wave of religious fanaticism, hears "voices" and slays his wife and
children as a sacrifice. His sister Clara, who tells the story, narrowly
escapes. The scene, laid at the woodland estate of Mittingen on the
Schuylkill's remote reaches, is drawn with extreme vividness; and the
terrors of Clara, beset by spectral tones, gathering fears, and the sound
of strange footsteps in the lonely house, are all shaped with truly
artistic force. In the end a lame ventriloquial explanation is offered,
but the atmosphere is genuine while it lasts. Carwin, the malign
ventriloquist, is a typical villain of the Manfred or Montoni type.


HORROR in literature attains a new malignity in the work of Matthew
Gregory Lewis (1773-1818), whose novel The Monk (1796) achieved marvelous
popularity and earned him the nickname "Monk" Lewis. This young author,
educated in Germany and saturated with a body of wild Teuton lore unknown
to Mrs. Radcliffe, turned to terror in forms more violent than his gentle
predecessor had ever dared to think of; and produced as a result a
masterpiece of active nightmare whose general Gothic cast is spiced with
added stores of ghoulishness. The story is one of a Spanish monk,
Ambrosio, who from a state of over-proud virtue is tempted to the very
nadir of evil by a fiend in the guise of the maiden Matilda; and who is
finally, when awaiting death at the Inquisition's hands, induced to
purchase escape at the price of his soul from the Devil, because he deems
both body and soul already lost. Forthwith the mocking Fiend snatches him
to a lonely place, tells him he has sold his soul in vain since both
pardon and a chance for salvation were approaching at the moment of his
hideous bargain, and completes the sardonic betrayal by rebuking him for
his unnatural crimes, and casting his body down a precipice whilst his
soul is borne off for ever to perdition. The novel contains some
appalling descriptions such as the incantation in the vaults beneath the
convent cemetery, the burning of the convent, and the final end of the
wretched abbot. In the sub-plot where the Marquis de las Cisternas meets
the spectre of his erring ancestress, The Bleeding Nun, there are many
enormously potent strokes; notably the visit of the animated corpse to
the Marquis's bedside, and the cabalistic ritual whereby the Wandering
Jew helps him to fathom and banish his dead tormentor. Nevertheless The
Monk drags sadly when read as a whole. It is too long and too diffuse,
and much of its potency is marred by flippancy and by an awkwardly
excessive reaction against those canons of decorum which Lewis at first
despised as prudish. One great thing may be said of the author; that he
never ruined his ghostly visions with a natural explanation. He succeeded
in breaking up the Radcliffian tradition and expanding the field of the
Gothic novel. Lewis wrote much more than The Monk. His drama, The Castle
Spectre, was produced in 1798, and he later found time to pen other
fictions in ballad form--Tales of Terror (1799), The Tales of Wonder
(1801), and a succession of translations from the German. Gothic
romances, both English and German, now appeared in multitudinous and
mediocre profusion. Most of them were merely ridiculous in the light of
mature taste, and Miss Austen's famous satire Northanger Abbey was by no
means an unmerited rebuke to a school which had sunk far toward
absurdity. This particular school was petering out, but before its final
subordination there arose its last and greatest figure in the person of
Charles Robert Maturin (1782-1824), an obscure and eccentric Irish
clergyman. Out of an ample body of miscellaneous writing which includes
one confused Radcliffian imitation called The Fatal Revenge; or, the
Family of Montorio (1807), Maturin at length envolved the vivid
horror-masterpiece of Melmoth, the Wanderer (1820), in which the Gothic
tale climbed to altitudes of sheer spiritual fright which it had never
known before.

Melmoth is the tale of an Irish Gentleman who, in the seventeenth
century, obtained a preternaturally extended life from the Devil at the
price of his soul. If he can persuade another to take the bargain off his
hands, and assume his existing state, he can be saved; but this he can
never manage to effect, no matter how assiduously he haunts those whom
despair has made reckless and frantic. The framework of the story is very
clumsy; involving tedious length, digressive episodes, narratives within
narratives, and labored dovetailing and coincidence; but at various
points in the endless rambling there is felt a pulse of power
undiscoverable in any previous work of this kind--a kinship to the
essential truth of human nature, an understanding of the profoundest
sources of actual cosmic fear, and a white heat of sympathetic passion on
the writer's part which makes the book a true document of sthetic
self-expression rather than a mere clever compound of artifice. No
unbiased reader can doubt that with Melmoth an enormous stride in the
evolution of the horror-tale is represented. Fear is taken out of the
realm of the conventional and exalted into a hideous cloud over mankind's
very destiny. Maturin's shudders, the work of one capable of shuddering
himself, are of the sort that convince, Mrs. Radcliffe and Lewis are fair
game for the parodist, but it would be difficult to find a false note in
the feverishly intensified action and high atmospheric tension of the
Irishman whose less sophisticated emotions and strain of Celtic mysticism
gave him the finest possible natural equipment for his task. Without a
doubt Maturin is a man of authentic genius, and he was so recognized by
Balzac, who grouped Melmoth with Molire's Don Juan, Goethe's
Faust, and Byron's Manfred as the supreme allegorical figures
of modern European literature, and wrote a whimsical piece called Melmoth
Reconciled, in which the Wanderer succeeds in passing his infernal
bargain on to a Parisian bank defaulter, who in turn hands it along a
chain of victims until a reveling gambler dies with it in his possession,
and by his damnation ends the curse. Scott, Rossetti, Thackeray and
Baudelaire are the other titans who gave Maturin their unqualified
admiration, and there is much significance in the fact that Oscar Wilde,
after his disgrace and exile, chose for his last days in Paris the
assumed name of "Sebastian Melmoth."

Melmoth contains scenes which even now have not lost their power to evoke
dread. It begins with a deathbed--an old miser is dying of sheer fright
because of something he has seen, coupled with a manuscript he has read
and a family portrait which hangs in an obscure closet of his centuried
home in County Wicklow. He sends to Trinity College, Dublin, for his
nephew John; and the latter upon arriving notes many uncanny things. The
eyes of the portrait in the closet glow horribly, and twice a figure
strangely resembling the portrait appears momentarily at the door. Dread
hangs over that house of the Melmoths, one of whose ancestors, "J.
Melmoth, 1646," the portrait represents. The dying miser declares that
this man--at a date slightly before 1800--is alive. Finally the miser
dies, and the nephew is told in the will to destroy both the portrait and
a manuscript to be found in a certain drawer. Reading the manuscript,
which was written late in the seventeenth century by an Englishman named
Stanton, young John learns of a terrible incident in Spain in 1677, when
the writer met a horrible fellow-countryman and was told of how he had
stared to death a priest who tried to denounce him as one filled with
fearsome evil. Later, after meeting the man again in London, Stanton is
cast into a madhouse and visited by the stranger, whose approach is
heralded by spectral music and whose eyes have a more than mortal glare.
Melmoth the Wanderer--for such is the malign visitor--offers the captive
freedom if he will take over his bargain with the Devil; but like all
others whom Melmoth has approached, Stanton is proof against temptation.
Melmoth's description of the horrors of a life in a madhouse, used to
tempt Stanton, is one of the most potent passages of the book. Stanton is
at length liberated, and spends the rest of his life tracking down
Melmoth, whose family and ancestral abode he discovers. With the family
he leaves the manuscript, which by young John's time is badly ruinous and
fragmentary. John destroys both portrait and manuscript, but in sleep is
visited by his horrible ancestor, who leaves a black and blue mark on his

Young John soon afterward receives as a visitor a shipwrecked Spaniard,
Alonzo de Moncada, who has escaped from compulsory monasticism and from
the perils of the Inquisition. He has suffered horribly--and the
descriptions of his experiences under torment and in the vaults through
which he once essays escape are classic--but had the strength to resist
Melmoth the Wanderer when approached at his darkest hour in prison. At
the house of a Jew who sheltered him after his escape he discovers a
wealth of manuscript relating other exploits of Melmoth, including his
wooing of an Indian island maiden, Immalee, who later comes into her
birthright in Spain and is known as Donna Isidora; and of his horrible
marriage to her by the corpse of a dead anchorite at midnight in the
ruined chapel of a shunned and abhorred monastery. Moncada's narrative to
young John takes up the bulk of Maturin's four-volume book; this
disproportion being considered one of the chief technical faults of the

At last the colloquies of John and Moncada are interrupted by the
entrance of Melmoth the Wanderer himself, his piercing eyes now fading,
and decrepitude swiftly overtaking him. The term of his bargain has
approached its end, and he has come home after a century and a half to
meet his fate. Warning all others from the room, no matter what sounds
they may hear in the night, he awaits the end alone. Young John and
Moncada hear frightful ululations, but do not intrude till silence comes
toward morning. They then find the room empty. Clayey footprints lead out
a rear door to a cliff overlooking the sea, and near the edge of the
precipice is a track indicating the forcible dragging of some heavy body.
The Wanderer's scarf is found on a crag some distance below the brink,
but nothing further is ever seen or heard of him.

Such is the story, and none can fail to notice the difference between
this modulated, suggestive, and artistically moulded horror and--to use
the words of Professor George Saintsbury--"the artful but rather jejune
rationalism of Mrs. Radcliffe, and the too often puerile extravagance,
the bad taste, and the sometimes slipshod style of Lewis." Maturin's
style in itself deserves particular praise, for its forcible directness
and vitality lift it altogether above the pompous artificialities of
which his predecessors are guilty. Professor Edith Birkhead, in her
history of the Gothic novel, justly observes that "with all his faults
Maturin was the greatest as well as the last of the Goths." Melmoth was
widely read and eventually dramatized, but its late date in the evolution
of the Gothic tale deprived it of the tumultuous popularity of Udolpho
and The Monk.


MEANWHILE other hands had not been idle, so that above the dreary
plethora of trash like Marquis von Grosse's Horrid Mysteries (1796), Mrs.
Roche's Children of the Abbey (1798), Mrs. Dacre's Zofloya; or, the Moor
(1806), and the poet Shelley's schoolboy effusions Zastro (1810) and St.
Irvine (1811) (both imitations of Zofloya) there arose many memorable
weird works both in English and German. Classic in merit, and markedly
different from its fellows because of its foundation in the Oriental tale
rather than the Walpolesque Gothic novel, is the celebrated History of
the Caliph Vathek by the wealthy dilettante William Beckford, first
written in the French language but published in an English translation
before the appearance of the original. Eastern tales, introduced to
European literature early in the eighteenth century through Galland's
French translation of the inexhaustibly opulent Arabian Nights, had
become a reigning fashion; being used both for allegory and for
amusement. The sly humour which only the Eastern mind knows how to mix
with weirdness had captivated a sophisticated generation, till Bagdad and
Damascus names became as freely strewn through popular literature as
dashing Italian and Spanish ones were soon to be. Beckford, well read in
Eastern romance, caught the atmosphere with unusual receptivity; and in
his fantastic volume reflected very potently the haughty luxury, sly
disillusion, bland cruelty, urbane treachery, and shadowy spectral horror
of the Saracen spirit. His seasoning of the ridiculous seldom mars the
force of his sinister theme, and the tale marches onward with a
phantasmagoric pomp in which the laughter is that of skeletons feasting
under arabesque domes. Vathek is a tale of the grandson of the Caliph
Haroun, who, tormented by that ambition for super-terrestrial power,
pleasure and learning which animates the average Gothic villain or
Byronic hero (essentially cognate types), is lured by an evil genius to
seek the subterranean throne of the mighty and fabulous pre-Adamite
sultans in the fiery halls of Eblis, the Mahometan Devil. The
descriptions of Vathek's palaces and diversions, of his scheming
soweress-mother Carathis and her witch-tower with the fifty one-eyed
negresses, of his pilgrimage to the haunted ruins of Istakhar
(Persepolis) and of the impish bride Nouronihar whom he treacherously
acquired on the way, of Istakhar's primordial towers and terraces in the
burning moonlight of the waste, and of the terrible Cyclopean halls of
Eblis, where, lured by glittering promises, each victim is compelled to
wander in anguish for ever, his right hand upon his blazingly ignited and
eternally burning heart, are triumphs of weird colouring which raise the
book to a permaneat place in English letters. No less notable are the
three Episodes of Vathek, intended for insertion in the tale as
narratives of Vathek's fellow-victims in Eblis' infernal halls, which
remained unpublished throughout the author's lifetime and were discovered
as recently as 1909 by the scholar Lewis Melville whilst collecting
material for his Life and Letters of William Beckford. Beckford, however,
lacks the essential mysticism which marks the acutest form of the weird;
so that his tales have a certain knowing Latin hardness and clearness
preclusive of sheer panic fright.

But Beckford remained alone in his devotion to the Orient. Other writers,
closer to the Gothic tradition and to European life in general, were
content to follow more faithfully in the lead of Walpole. Among the
countless producers of terror-literature in these times may be mentioned
the Utopian economic theorist William Godwin, who followed his famous but
non-supernatural Caleb Williams (1794) with the intendedly weird St. Leon
(1799), in which the theme of the elixir of life, as developed by the
imaginary secret order of "Rosicrucians," is handled with ingeniousness
if not with atmospheric convincingness. This element of Rosicrucianism,
fostesed by a wave of popular magical interest exemplified in the vogue
of the charlatan Cagliostro and the publication of Francis Barrett's The
Magus (1801), a curious and compendious treatise on occult principles and
ceremonies, of which a reprint was made as lately as 1896, figures in
Bulwer-Lytton and in many late Gothic novels, especially that remote and
enfeebled posterity which straggled far down into the nineteenth century
and was represented by George W.M. Reynold's Faust and the Demon and
Wagner the Wehr-Wolf. Caleb Williams, though non-supernatural, has many
authentic touches of terror. It is the tale of a servant persecuted by a
master whom he has found guilty of murder, and displays an invention and
skill which have kept it alive in a fashion to this day. It was
dramatized as The Iron Chest, and in that form was almost equally
celebrated. Godwin, however, was too much the conscious teacher and
prosaic man of thought to create a genuine weird masterpiece.

His daughter, the wife of Shelley, was much more successful; and her
inimitable Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus (1817) is one of the
horror-classics of all time. Composed in competition with her husband,
Lord Byron, and Dr. John William Polidori in an effort to prove supremacy
in horror-making, Mrs. Shelley's Frankenstein was the only one of the
rival narratives to be brought to an elaborate completion; and criticism
has failed to prove that the best parts are due to Shelley rather than to
her. The novel, somewhat tinged but scarcely marred by moral didacticism,
tells of the artificial human being moulded from charnel fragments by
Victor Frankenstein, a young Swiss medical student. Created by its
designer "in the mad pride of intellectuality," the monster possesses
full intelligence but owns a hideously loathsome form. It is rejected by
mankind, becomes embittered, and at length begins the successive murder
of all whom Frankenstein loves best, friends and family. It demands that
Frankenstein create a wife for it; and when the student finally refuses
in horror lest the world be populated with such monsters, it departs with
a hideous threat "to be with him on his wedding night." Upon that night
the bride is strangled, and from that time on Frankenstein hunts down the
monster, even into the wastes of the Arctic. In the end, whilst seeking
shelter on the ship of the man who tells the story, Frankenstein himself
is killed by the shocking object of his search and creation of his
presumptuous pride. Some of the scenes in Frankenstein are unforgettable,
as when the newly animated monster enters its creator's room, parts the
curtains of his bed, and gazes at him in the yellow moonlight with watery
eyes--"if eyes they may be called." Mrs. Shelley wrote other novels,
including the fairly notable Last Man; but never duplicated the success
of her first effort. It has the true touch of cosmic fear, no matter how
much the movement may lag in places. Dr. Polidori developed his competing
idea as a long short story, The Vampyre; in which we behold a suave
villain of the true Gothic or Byronic type, and encounter some excellent
passages of stark fright, including a terrible nocturnal experience in a
shunned Grecian wood.

In this same period Sir Walter Scott frequently concerned himself with
the weird, weaving it into many of his novels and poems, and sometimes
producing such independent bits of narration as The Tapestried Chamber or
Wandering Willie's Tale in Redgauntlet, in the latter of which the force
of the spectral and the diabolic is enhanced by a grotesque homeliness of
speech and atmosphere. In 1830 Scott published his Letters on Demonology
and Witchcraft, which still forms one of our best compendia of European
witch-lore. Washington Irving is another famous figure not unconnected
with the weird; for though most of his ghosts are too whimsical and
humorous to form genuinely spectral literature, a distinct inclination in
this direction is to be noted in many of his productions. The German
Student in Tales of a Traveler (1824) is a slyly concise and effective
presentation of the old legend of the dead bride, whilst woven into the
cosmic tissue of The Money Diggers in the same volume is more than one
hint of piratical apparitions in the realms which Captain Kidd once
roamed. Thomas Moore also joined the ranks of the macabre artists in the
poem Alciphron, which he later elaborated into the prose novel of The
Epicurean (1827). Though merely relating the adventures of a young
Athenian duped by the artifice of cunning Egyptian priests, Moore manages
to infuse much genuine horror into his account of subterranean frights
and wonders beneath the primordial temples of Memphis. De Quincey more
than once revels in grotesque and arabesque terrors, though with a
desultoriness and learned pomp which deny him the rank of specialist.

This era likewise saw the rise of William Harrison Ainsworth, whose
romantic novels teem with the eerie and the gruesome. Capt. Marryat,
besides writing such short tales as The Werewolf, made a memorable
contribution in The Phantom Ship (1839), founded on the legend of the
Flying Dutchman, whose spectral and accursed vessel sails for ever near
the Cape of Good Hope. Dickens now rises with occasional weird bits like
The Signalman, a tale of ghastly warning conforming to a very common
pattern and touched with a verisimilitude which allied it as much with
the coming psychological school as with the dying Gothic school. At this
time a wave of interest in spiritualistic charlatanry, mediumism, Hindoo
theosophy, and such matters, much like that of the present day, was
flourishing; so that the number of weird tales with a "Psychic" or
pseudo-scientific basis became very considerable. For a number of these
the prolific and popular Edward Bulwer-Lytton was responsible; and
despite the large doses of turgid rhetoric and empty romanticism in his
products, his success in the weaving of a certain kind of bizarre charm
cannot be denied.

The House and the Brain, which hints of Rosicrucianism and at a malign
and deathless figure perhaps suggested by Louis XV's mysterious courtier
St. Germain, yet survives as one of the best short haunted-house tales
ever written. The novel Zanoni (1842) contains similar elements more
elaborately handled, and introduces a vast unknown sphere of being
pressing on our own world and guarded by a horrible "Dweller of the
Threshold" who haunts those who try to enter and fail. Here we have a
benign brotherhood kept alive from age to age till finally reduced to a
single member, and as a hero an ancient Chaldaean sorcerer surviving in
the pristine bloom of youth to perish on the guillotine of the French
Revolution. Though full of the conventional spirit of romance, marred by
a ponderous network of symbolic and didactic meanings, and left
unconvincing through lack of perfect atmospheric realization of the
situations hinging on the spectral world, Zanoni is really an excellent
performance as a romantic novel; and can be read with genuine interest by
the not too sophisticated reader. It is amusing to note that in
describing an attempted initiation into the ancient brotherhood the
author cannot escape using the stock Gothic castle of Walpolian lineage.

In A Strange Story (1862) Bulwer-Lytton shows a marked improvement in the
creation of weird images and moods. The novel, despite enormous length, a
highly artificial plot bolstered up by opportune coincidences, and an
atmosphere of homiletic pseudo-science designed to please the
matter-of-fact and purposeful Victorian reader, is exceedingly effective
as a narrative; evoking instantaneous and unflagging interest, and
furnishing many potent--if somewhat melodramatic--tableaux and climaxes.
Again we have the mysterious user of life's elixir in the person of the
soulless magician Margrave, whose dark exploits stand out with dramatic
vividness against the modern background of a quiet English town and of
the Australian bush; and again we have shadowy intimations of a vast
spectral world of the unknown in the very air about us--this time handled
with much greater power and vitality than in Zanoni. One of the two great
incantation passages, where the hero is driven by a luminous evil spirit
to rise at night in his sleep, take a strange Egyptian wand, and evoke
nameless presences in the haunted and mausoleum-facing pavilion of a
famous Renaissance alchemist, truly stands among the major terror scenes
of literature. Just enough is suggested, and just little enough is told.
Unknown words are twice dictated to the sleep-walker, and as he repeats
them the ground trembles, and all the dogs of the countryside begin to
bay at half-seen amorphous shadows that stalk athwart the moonlight. When
a third set of unknown words is prompted, the sleep-walker's spirit
suddenly rebels at uttering them, as if the soul could recognize ultimate
abysmal horrors concealed from the mind; and at last an apparition of an
absent sweetheart and good angel breaks the malign spell. This fragment
well illustrates how far Lord Lytton was capable of progressing beyond
his usual pomp and stock romance toward that crystalline essence of
artistic fear which belongs to the domain of poetry. In describing
certain details of incantations, Lytton was greatly indebted to his
amusingly serious occult studies, in the course of which he came in touch
with that odd French scholar and cabalist Alphonse Louis Constant
("Eliphas Levy"), who claimed to possess the secrets of ancient magic,
and to have evoked the spectre of the old Grecian wizard Apollonius of
Tyana, who lived in Nero's times.

The romantic, semi-Gothic, quasi-moral tradition here represented was
carried far down the nineteenth century by such authors as Joseph
Sheridan LeFanu, Wilkie Collins, the late Sir H. Rider Haggard (whose She
is really remarkably good), Sir A. Conan Doyle, H. G. Wells, and Robert
Louis Stevenson--the latter of whom, despite an atrocious tendency toward
jaunty mannerisms, created permanent classics in Markheim, The Body
Snatcher, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Indeed, we may say that this
school still survives; for to it clearly belong such of our contemporary
horror-tales as specialise in events rather than atmospheric details,
address the intellect rather than a malign tensity or psychological
verisimilitude, and take a definite stand in sympathy with mankind and
its welfare. It has its undeniable strength, and because of its "human
element" commands a wider audience than does the sheer artistic
nightmare. If not quite so potent as the latter, it is because a diluted
product can never achieve the intensity of a concentrated essence.

Quite alone both as a novel and as a piece of terror-literature stands
the famous Wuthering Heights (1847) by Emily Bront, with its mad vistas
of bleak, windswept Yorkshire moors and the violent, distorted lives they
foster. Though primarily a tale of life, and of human passions in agony
and conflict, its epically cosmic setting affords room for horror of the
most spiritual sort. Heathcliff, the modified Byronic villain-hero, is a
strange dark waif found in the streets as a small child and speaking only
a strange gibberish till adopted by the family he ultimately ruins. That
he is in truth a diabolic spirit rather than a human being is more than
once suggested, and the unreal is further approached in the experience of
the visitor who encounters a plaintive child-ghost at a bough-brushed
upper window. Between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw is a tie deeper
and more terrible than human love. After her death he twice disturbs her
grave, and is haunted by an impalpable presence which can be nothing less
thin her spirit. The spirit enters his life more and more, and at last he
becomes confident of some imminent mystical reunion. He says he feels a
strange change approaching, and ceases to take nourishment. At night he
either walks abroad or opens the casement by his bed. When he dies the
casement is still swinging open to the pouring rain, and a queer smile
pervades the stiffened face. They bury him in a grave beside the mound he
has haunted for eighteen years, and small shepherd boys say that he yet
walks with his Catherine in the churchyard and on the moor when it rains.
Their faces, too, are sometimes seen on rainy nights behind that upper
casement at Wuthering Heights. Miss Bronte's eerie terror is no
mere Gothic echoe, but a tense expression of man's shuddering reaction to
the unknown. In this respect, Wuthering Heights becomes the symbol of a
literary transition, and marks the growth of a new and sounder school.


ON the continent literary horror fared well. The celebrated short tales
and novels of Ernst Theodor Wihelm Hoffmann (1776-1822) are a by-word for
mellowness of background and maturity of form, though they incline to
levity and extravagance, and lack the exalted moments of stark,
breathless terror which a less sophisticated writer might have achieved.
Generally they convey the grotesque rather than the terrible. Most
artistic of all the continental weird tales is the German classic Undine
(1814), by Friedrich Heinrich Karl, Baron de la Motte Fouqu. In
this story of a water-spirit who married a mortal and gained a human soul
there is a delicate fineness of craftsmanship which makes it notable in
any department of literature, and an easy naturalness which places it
close to the genuine folk-myth. It is, in fact, derived from a tale told
by the Renaissance physician and alchemist Paracelsus in his Treatise on
Elemental Sprites.

Undine, daughter of a powerful water-prince, was exchanged by her father
as a small child for a fisherman's daughter, in order that she might
acquire a soul by wedding a human being. Meeting the noble youth
Huldbrand at the cottage of her fosterfather by the sea at the edge of a
haunted wood, she soon marries him, and accompanies him to his ancestral
castle of Ringstetten. Huldbrand, however, eventually wearies of his
wife's supernatural affiliations, and especially of the appearances of
her uncle, the malicious woodland waterfall-spirit Kuhleborn; a weariness
increased by his growing affection for Bertalda, who turns out to be the
fisherman's child for whom Undine was changed. At length, on a voyage
down the Danube, he is provoked by some innocent act of his devoted wife
to utter the angry words which consign her back to her supernatural
element; from which she can, by the laws of her species, return only
once--to kill him, whether she will of no, if ever he prove unfaithful to
her memory. Later, when Huldbrand is about to be married to Bertalda,
Undine returns for her sad duty, and bears his life away in tears. When
he is buried among his fathers in the village churchyard a veiled,
snow-white female figure appears among the mourners, but after the prayer
is seen no more. In her place is seen a little silver spring, which
murmurs its way almost completely around the new grave, and empties into
a neighboring lake. The villagers show it to this day, and say that
Undine and her Huldbrand are thus united in death. Many passages and
atmospheric touches in this tale reveal Fouqu as an accomplished artist
in the field of the macabre; especially the descriptions of the haunted
wood with its gigantic snow-white man and various unnamed terrors, which
occur early in the narrative.

Not so well known as Undine, but remarkable for its convincing realism
and freedom from Gothic stock devices, is the Amber Witch of Wilhelm
Meinhold, another product of the German fantastic genius of the earlier
nineteenth century. This tale, which is laid in the time of the Thirty
Years' War, purports to be a clergyman's manuscript found in an old
church at Coserow, and centres round the writer's daughter, Maria
Schweidler, who is wrongly accused of witchcraft. She has found a deposit
of amber which she keeps secret for various reasons, and the unexplained
wealth obtained from this lends colour to the accusation; an accusation
instigated by the malice of the wolf-hunting nobleman Wittich Appelmann,
who has vainly pursued her with ignoble designs. The deeds of a real
witch, who afterward comes to a horrible supernatural end in prison, are
glibly imputed to the hapless Maria; and after a typical witchcraft trial
with forced confessions under torture she is about to be burned at the
stake when saved just in time by her lover, a noble youth from a
neighboring district. Meinhold's great strength is in his air of casual
and realistic verisimilitude, which intensifies our suspense and sense of
the unseen by half persuading us that the menacing events must somehow be
either the truth or very dose to the truth. Indeed, so thorough is this
realism that a popular magazine once published the main points of The
Amber Witch as an actual occurrence of the seventeenth century!

In the present generation German horror-fiction is most notably
represented by Hanns Heinz Ewers, who brings to bear on his dark
conceptions an effective knowledge of modem psychology. Novels like The
Sorcerer's Apprentice and Alrune, and short stories like The Spider,
contain distinctive qualities which raise them to a classic level.

But France as well as Germany has been active in the realm of weirdness.
Victor Hugo, in such tales as Hans of Iceland, and Balzac, in The Wild
Ass's Skin, Seraphita, and Louis Lambert, both employ supernaturalism to
a greater or less extent; though generally only as a means to some more
human end, and without the sincere and dmonic intensity which
characterizes the born artist in shadows. It is in Theophile Gautier that
we first seem to find an authentic French sense of the unreal world, and
here there appears a spectral mystery which, though not continuously
used, is recognizable at once as something alike genuine and profound.
Short tales like Avatar, The Foot of the Mummy, and Clarimonde display
glimpses of forbidden vistas that allure, tantalize, and sometime
horrify; whilst the Egyptian visions evoked in One of Cleopatra's Nights
are of the keenest and most expressive potency. Gautier captured the
inmost soul of on-weighted Egypt, with its cryptic life and Cyclopean
architecture, and uttered once and for all the eternal horror of its
nether world of catacombs, where to the end of time millions of stiff,
spiced corpses will stare up in the blackness with glassy eyes, awaiting
some awesome and unrelatable summons. Gustave Flaubert ably continued the
tradition of Gautier in orgies of poetic phantasy like The Temptation of
St. Anthony, and but for a strong realistic bias might have been an
arch-weaver of tapestried terrors. Later on we see the stream divide,
producing strange poets and fantaisistes of the symbolic and decadent
schools whose dark interests really centre more in abnormalities of human
thought and instinct than in the actual supernatural, and subtle
story-tellers whose thrills are quite directly derived from the
night-black wells of cosmic unreality. Of the former class of "artists in
sin" the illustrious poet Baudelaire, influenced vastly by Poe, is the
supreme type; whilst the psychological novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans, a
true child of the eighteen-nineties, is at once the summation and finale.
The latter and purely narrative class is continued by Prosper Merime,
whose Venus of Ille presents in terse and convincing prose the same
ancient statue-bride theme which Thomas Moore cast in ballad form in The

The horror-tales of the powerful and cynical Guy de Maupassant, written
as his final madness gradually overtook him, present individualities of
their own; being rather the morbid outpourings of a realistic mind in a
pathological state than the healthy imaginative products of a vision
naturally disposed toward phantasy and sensitive to the normal illusions
of the unseen. Nevertheless they are of the keenest interest and
poignancy; suggesting with marvelous force the imminence of nameless
terrors, and the relentless dogging of an ill-starred individual by
hideous and menacing representatives of the outer blackness. Of these
stories The Horla is generally regarded as the masterpiece. Relating the
advent to France of an invisible being who lives on water and milk, sways
the minds of others, and seems to be the vanguard of a horde of
extra-terrestrial organisms arrived on earth to subjugate and overwhelm
mankind, this tense narrative is perhaps without a peer in its particular
department; notwithstanding its indebtedness to a tale by the American
Fitz-James O'Brien for details in describing the actual presence of the
unseen monster. Other potently dark creations of de Maupassant are Who
Knows?, The Spectre, He, The Diary of a Madman, The White Wolf, On the
River, and the grisly verses entitled Horror.

The collaborators Erckmann-Chatrian enriched French literature with many
spectral fancies like The Man-Wolf, in which a transmitted curse works
toward its end in a traditional Gothic-castle setting. Their power of
creating a shuddering midnight atmosphere was tremendous despite a
tendency toward natural explanations and scientific wonders; and few
short tales contain greater horror than The Invisible Eye, where a
malignant old hag weaves nocturnal hypnotic spells which induce the
successive occupants of a certain inn chamber to hang themselves on a
cross-beam. The Owl's Ear and The Waters of Death are full of engulfing
darkness and mystery, the latter embodying the familiar over-grown-spider
theme so frequently employed by weird fictionists. Villiers de l'Isle
Adam likewise followed the macabre school; his Torture by Hope, the tale
of a stake-condemned prisoner permitted to escape in order to feel the
pangs of recapture, being held by some to constitute the most harrowing
short story in literature. This type, however, is less a part of the
weird tradition than a class peculiar to itself--the so-called conte
cruel, in which the wrenching of the emotions is accomplished through
dramatic tantalizations, frustrations, and gruesome physical horrors.
Almost wholly devoted to this form is the living writer Maurice Level,
whose very brief episodes have lent themselves so readily to theatrical
adaptation in the "thrillers" of the Grand Guignol. As a matter of fact,
the French genius is more naturally suited to this dark realism than to
the suggestion of the unseen; since the latter process requires, for its
best and most sympathetic development on a large scale, the inherent
mysticism of the Northern mind.

A very flourishing, though till recently quite hidden, branch of weird
literature is that of the Jews, kept alive and nourished in obscurity by
the sombre heritage of early Eastern magic, apocalyptic literature, and
cabbalism. The Semitic mind, like the Celtic and Teutonic, seems to
possess marked mystical inclinations; and the wealth of underground
horror-lore surviving in ghettoes and synagogues must be much more
considerable than is generally imagined. Cabbalism itself, so prominent
during the Middle Ages, is a system of philosophy explaining the universe
as emanations of the Deity, and involving the existence of strange
spiritual realms and beings apart from the visible world of which dark
glimpses may be obtained through certain secret incantations. Its ritual
is bound up with mystical interpretations of the Old Testament, and
attributes an esoteric significance to each letter of the Hebrew alphabet
--a circumstance which has imparted to Hebrew letters a sort of spectral
glamour and potency in the popular literature of magic. Jewish folklore
has preserved much of the terror and mystery of the past, and when more
thoroughly studied is likely to exert considerable influence on weird
fiction. The best examples of its literary use so far are the German
novel The Golem, by Gustave Meyrink, and the drama The Dyhhuk, by the
Jewish writer using the pseudonym "Ansky." The former, with its haunting
shadowy suggestions of marvels and horrors just beyond reach, is laid in
Prague, and describes with singular mastery that city's ancient ghetto
with its spectral, peaked gables. The name is derived from a fabulous
artificial giant supposed to be made and animated by medival rabbis
according to a certain cryptic formula. The Dyhbuk, translated and
produced in America in 1925, and more recently produced as an opera,
describes with singular power the possession of a living body by the evil
soul of a dead man. Both golems and dybbuks are fixed types, and serve as
frequent ingredients of later Jewish tradition.


IN the eighteen-thirties occurred a literary dawn directly affecting not
only the history of the weird tale, but that of short fiction as a whole;
and indirectly moulding the trends and fortunes of a great European
sthetic school. It is our good fortune as Americans to be able to claim
that dawn as our own, for it came in the person of our most illustrious
and unfortunate fellow-countryman Edgar Allan Poe. Poe's fame has been
subject to curious undulations, and it is now a fashion amongst the
"advanced intelligentsia" to minimize his importance both as an artist
and as an influence; but it would be hard for any mature and reflective
critic to deny the tremendous value of his work and the persuasive
potency of his mind as an opener of artistic vistas. True, his type of
outlook may have been anticipated; but it was he who first realized its
possibilities and gave it supreme form and systematic expression. True
also, that subsequent writers may have produced greater single tales than
his; but again we must comprehend that it was only he who taught them by
example and precept the art which they, having the way cleared for them
and given an explicit guide, were perhaps able to carry to greater
lengths. Whatever his limitations, Poe did that which no one else ever
did or could have done; and to him we owe the modern horror-story in its
final and perfected state.

Before Poe the bulk of weird writers had worked largely in the dark;
without an understanding of the psychological basis of the horror appeal,
and hampered by more or legs of conformity to certain empty literary
conventions such as the happy ending, virtue rewarded, and in general a
hollow moral didacticism, acceptance of popular standards and values, and
striving of the author to obtrude his own emotions into the story and
take sides with the partisans of the majority's artificial ideas. Poe, on
the other hand, perceived the essential impersonality of the real artist;
and knew that the function of creative fiction is merely to express and
interpret events and sensations as they are, regardless of how they tend
or what they prove--good or evil, attractive or repulsive, stimulating
or depressing, with the author always acting as a vivid and detached
chronicler rather than as a teacher, sympathizer, or vendor of opinion.
He saw clearly that all phases of life and thought are equally eligible
as a subject matter for the artist, and being inclined by temperament to
strangeness and gloom, decided to be the interpreter of those powerful
feelings and frequent happenings which attend pain rather than pleasure,
decay rather than growth, terror rather than tranquility, and which are
fundamentally either adverse or indifferent to the tastes and traditional
outward sentiments of mankind, and to the health, sanity, and normal
expansive welfare of the species.

Poe's spectres thus acquired a convincing malignity possessed by none of
their predecessors, and established a new standard of realism in the
annals of literary horror. The impersonal and artistic intent, moreover,
was aided by a scientific attitude not often found before; whereby Poe
studied the human mind rather than the usages of Gothic fiction, and
worked with an analytical knowledge of terror's true sources which
doubled the force of his narratives and emancipated him from all the
absurdities inherent in merely conventional shudder-coining. This example
having been set, later authors were naturally forced to conform to it in
order to compete at all; so that in this way a definite change begin to
affect the main stream of macabre writing. Poe, too, set a fashion in
consummate craftsmanship; and although today some of his own work seems
slightly melodramatic and unsophisticated, we can constantly trace his
influence in such things as the maintenance of a single mood and
achievement of a single impression in a tale, and the rigorous paring
down of incidents to such as have a direct bearing on the plot and will
figure prominently in the climax. Truly may it be said that Poe invented
the short story in its present form. His elevation of disease,
perversity, and decay to the level of artistically expressible themes was
likewise infinitely far-reaching in effect; for avidly seized, sponsored,
and intensified by his eminent French admirer Charles Pierre Baudelaire,
it became the nucleus of the principal sthetic movements in France, thus
making Poe in a sense the father of the Decadents and the Symbolists.

Poet and critic by nature and supreme attainment, logician and
philosopher by taste and mannerism, Poe was by no means immune from
defects and affectations. His pretence to profound and obscure
scholarship, his blundering ventures in stilted and laboured
pseudo-humor, and his often vitriolic outbursts of critical prejudice
must all be recognized and forgiven. Beyond and above them, and dwarfing
them to insignificance, was a master's vision of the terror that stalks
about and within us, and the worm that writhes and slavers in the
hideously close abyss. Penetrating to every festering horror in the gaily
painted mockery called existence, and in the solemn masquerade called
human thought and feeling, that vision had power to project itself in
blackly magical crystallisations and transmutations; till there bloomed
in the sterile America of the thirties and forties such a moon-nourished
garden of gorgeous poison fungi as not even the nether slopes of Saturn
might boast. Verses and tales alike sustain the burthen of cosmic panic.
The raven whose noisome beak pierces the heart, the ghouls that toll iron
bells in pestilential steeples, the vault of Ulalume in the black October
night, the shocking spires and domes under the sea, the "wild, weird
clime that lieth, sublime, out of Space--out of Time"--all these things
and more leer at us amidst maniacal rattlings in the seething nightmare
of the poetry. And in the prose there yawn open for us the very jaws of
the pit--inconceivable abnormalities slyly hinted into a horrible
half-knowledge by words whose innocence we scarcely doubt till the
cracked tension of the speaker's hollow voice bids us fear their nameless
implications; dmoniac patterns and presences slumbering noxiously till
waked for one phobic instant into a shrieking revelation that cackles
itself to sudden madness or explodes in memorable and cataclysmic echoes.
A Witches' Sabbath of horror flinging off decorous robes is flashed
before us--a sight the more monstrous because of the scientific skill
with which every particular is marshaled and brought into an easy
apparent relation to the known gruesomeness of material life.

Poe's tales, of course, fall into several classes; some of which contain
a purer essence of spiritual horror than others. The tales of logic and
ratiocination, forerunners of the modern detective story, are not to be
included at all in weird literature; whilst certain others, probably
influenced considerably by Hoffmann, possess an extravagance which
relegates them to the borderline of the grotesque. Still a third group
deal with abnormal psychology and monomania in such a way as to express
terror but not weirdness. A substantial residuum, however, represent the
literature of supernatural horror in its acutest form; and give their
author a permanent and unassailable place as deity and fountainhead of
all modern diabolic fiction. Who can forget the terrible swollen ship
poised on the billow-chasm's edge in MS. Found in a Bottle--the dark
intimations of her unhallowed age and monstrous growth, her sinister crew
of unseeing greybeards, and her frightful southward rush under full sail
through the ice of the Antarctic night, sucked onward by some resistless
devil-current toward a vortex of eldritch enlightenment which must end in

Then there is the unutterable M. Valdemar, kept together by hypnotism for
seven months after his death, and uttering frantic sounds but a moment
before the breaking of the spell leaves him "a nearly liquid mass of
loathsome, of detestable putrescence." In the Narrative of A. Gordon Pym
the voyagers reach first a strange south polar land of murderous savages
where nothing is white and where vast rocky ravines have the form of
titanic Egyptian letters spelling terrible primal arcana of earth; and
thereafter a still more mysterious realm where everything is white, and
where shrouded giants and snowy-plumed birds guard a cryptic cataract of
mist which empties from immeasurable celestial heights into a torrid
milky sea. Metzengerstein horrifies with its malign hints of a monstrous
metempsychosis--the mad nobleman who burns the stable of his hereditary
foe; the colossal unknown horse that issues from the blazing building
after the owner has perished therein; the vanishing bit of ancient
tapestry where was shown the giant horse of the victim's ancestor in the
Crusades; the madman's wild and constant riding on the great horse, and
his fear and hatred of the steed; the meaningless prophecies that brood
obscurely over the warring houses; and finally, the burning of the
madman's palace and the death therein of the owner, borne helpless into
the flames and up the vast staircase astride the beast he had ridden so
strangely. Afterward the rising smoke of the ruins take the form of a
gigantic horse. The Man of the Crowd, telling of one who roams day and
night to mingle with streams of people as if afraid to be alone, has
quieter effects, but implies nothing less of cosmic fear. Poe's mind was
never far from terror and decay, and we see in every tale, poem, and
philosophical dialogue a tense eagerness to fathom unplumbed wells of
night, to pierce the veil of death, and to reign in fancy as lord of the
frightful mysteries of time and space.

Certain of Poe's tales possess an almost absolute perfection of artistic
form which makes them veritable beacon-lights in the province of the
short story. Poe could, when he wished, give to his prose a richly poetic
cast; employing that archaic and Orientalised style with jeweled phrase,
quasi-Biblical repetition, and recurrent burthen so successfully used by
later writers like Oscar Wilde and Lord Dunsany; and in the cases where
he has done this we have an effect of lyrical phantasy almost narcotic in
essence--an opium pageant of dream in the language of dream, with every
unnatural colour and grotesque image bodied forth in a symphony of
corresponding sound. The Masque of the Red Death, Silence, a Fable, and
Shadow, a Parable, are assuredly poems in every sense of the word save
the metrical one, and owe as much of their power to aural cadence as to
visual imagery. But it is in two of the less openly poetic tales, Ligeia
and The Fall of the House of Usher--especially the latter--that one finds
those very summits of artistry whereby Poe takes his place at the head of
fictional miniaturists. Simple and straightforward in plot, both of these
tales owe their supreme magic to the cunning development which appears in
the selection and collocation of every least incident. Ligeia tells of a
first wife of lofty and mysterious origin, who after death returns
through a preternatural force of will to take possession of the body of a
second wife; imposing even her physical appearance on the temporary
reanimated corpse of her victim at the last moment. Despite a suspicion
of prolixity and topheaviness, the narrative reaches its terrific climax
with relentless power. Usher, whose superiority in detail and proportion
is very marked, hints shudderingly of obscure life in inorganic things,
and displays an abnormally linked trinity of entities at the end of a
long and isolated family history--a brother, his twin sister, and their
incredibly ancient house all sharing a single soul and meeting one common
dissolution at the same moment.

These bizarre conceptions, so awkward in unskillful hands, become under
Poe's spell living and convincing terrors to haunt our nights; and all
because the author understood so perfectly the very mechanics and
physiology of fear and strangeness--the essential details to emphasise,
the precise incongruities and conceits to select as preliminaries or
concomitants to horror, the exact incidents and allusions to throw out
innocently in advance as symbols or prefigurings of each major step
toward the hideous dnouement to come, the nice adjustments of cumulative
force and the unerring accuracy in linkage of parts which make for
faultless unity throughout and thunderous effectiveness at the climactic
moment, the delicate nuances of scenic and landscape value to select in
establishing and sustaining the desired mood and vitalising the desired
illusion--principles of this kind, and dozens of obscurer ones too
elusive to be described or even fully comprehended by any ordinary
commentator. Melodrama and unsophistication there may be--we are told of
one fastidious Frenchman who could not bear to read Poe except in
Baudelaire's urbane and Gallically modulated translation--but all traces
of such things are wholly overshadowed by a potent and inborn sense of
the spectral, the morbid, and the horrible which gushed forth from every
cell of the artist's creative mentality and stamped his macabre work with
the ineffaceable mark of supreme genius. Poe's weird tales are alive in a
manner that few others can ever hope to be.

Like most fantaisistes, Poe excels in incidents and broad narrative
effects rather than in character drawing. His typical protagonist is
generally a dark, handsome, proud, melancholy, intellectual, highly
sensitive, capricious, introspective, isolated, and sometimes slightly
mad gentleman of ancient family and opulent circumstances; usually deeply
learned in strange lore, and darkly ambitious of penetrating to forbidden
secrets of the universe. Aside from a high-sounding name, this character
obviously derives little from the early Gothic novel; for he is clearly
neither the wooden hero nor the diabolical villain of Radcliffian or
Ludovician romance. Indirectly, however, he does possess a sort of
genealogical connection; since his gloomy, ambitious and anti-social
qualities savour strongly of the typical Byronic hero, who in turn is
definitely an offspring of the Gothic Manfreds, Montonis, and Ambrosios.
More particular qualities appear to be derived from the psychology of Poe
himself, who certainly possessed much of the depression, sensitiveness,
mad aspiration, loneliness, and extravagant freakishness which he
attributes to his haughty and solitary victims of Fate.


THE public for whom Poe wrote, though grossly unappreciative of his art,
was by no means accustomed to the horrors with which he dealt. America,
besides inheriting the usual dark folk-lore of Europe, had an additional
fund of weird associations to draw upon; so that spectral legends had
already been recognised as fruitful subject-matter for literature.
Charles Brockden Brown had achieved phenomenal fame with his Radcliffian
romances, and Washington Irving's lighter treatment of eerie themes had
quickly become classic. This additional fund proceeded, as Paul Elmer
More has pointed out, from the keen spiritual and theological interests
of the first colonists, plus the strange and forbidding nature of the
scene into which they were plunged. The vast and gloomy virgin forests in
whose perpetual twilight all terrors might well lurk; the hordes of
coppery Indians whose strange, saturnine visages and violent customs
hinted strongly at traces of infernal origin; the free rein given tinder
the influence of Puritan theocracy to all manner of notions respecting
man's relation to the stern and vengeful God of the Calvinists, and to
the sulphureous Adversary of that God, about whom so much was thundered
in the pulpits each Sunday; and the morbid introspection developed by an
isolated backwoods life devoid of normal amusements and of the
recreational mood, harassed by commands for theological self-examination,
keyed to unnatural emotional repression, and forming above all a mere
grim struggle for survival--all these things conspired to produce an
environment in which the black whisperings of sinister grandams were
heard far beyond the chimney corner, and in which tales of witchcraft and
unbelievable secret monstrosities lingered long after the dread days of
the Salem nightmare.

Poe represents the newer, more disillusioned, and more technically
finished of the weird schools that rose out of this propitious milieu.
Another school--the tradition of moral values, gentle restraint, and
mild, leisurely phantasy tinged more or less with the whimsical--was
represented by another famous, misunderstood, and lonely figure in
American letters--the shy and sensitive Nathaniel Hawthorne, scion of
antique Salem and great-grandson of one of the bloodiest of the old
witchcraft judges. In Hawthorne we have none of the violence, the daring,
the high colouring, the intense dramatic sense, the cosmic malignity, and
the undivided and impersonal artistry of Poe. Here, instead, is a gentle
soul cramped by the Puritanism of early New England; shadowed and
wistful, and grieved at an unmoral universe which everywhere transcends
the conventional patterns thought by our forefathers to represent divine
and immutable law. Evil, a very real force to Hawthorne, appears on every
hand as a lurking and conquering adversary; and the visible world becomes
in his fancy a theatre of infinite tragedy and woe, with unseen
half-existent influences hovering over it and through it, battling for
supremacy and moulding the destinies of the hapless mortals who form its
vain and self-deluded population. The heritage of American weirdness was
his to a most intense degree, and he saw a dismal throng of vague
specters behind the common phenomena of life; but he was not
disinterested enough to value impressions, sensations, and beauties of
narration for their own sake. He must needs weave his phantasy into some
quietly melancholy fabric of didactic or allegorical cast, in which his
meekly resigned cynicism may display with naive moral appraisal the
perfidy of a human race which he cannot cease to cherish and mourn
despite his insight into its hypocrisy. Supernatural horror, then, is
never a primarily object with Hawthorne; though its impulses were so
deeply woven into his personality that he cannot help suggesting it with
the force of genius when he calls upon the unreal world to illustrate the
pensive sermon he wishes to preach.

Hawthorne's intimations of the weird, always gentle, elusive, and
restrained, may be traced throughout his work. The mood that produced
them found one delightful vent in the Teutonised retelling of classic
myths for children contained in A Wonder Book and Tanglewood Tales, and
at other times exercised itself in casting a certain strangeness and
intangible witchery or malevolence over events not meant to be actually
supernatural; as in the macabre posthumous novel Dr. Grimshawe's Secret,
which invests with a peculiar sort of repulsion a house existing to this
day in Salem, and abutting on the ancient Charter Street Burying Ground.
In The Marble Faun, whose design was sketched out in an Italian villa
reputed to be haunted, a tremendous background of genuine phantasy and
mystery palpitates just beyond the common reader's sight; and glimpses of
fabulous blood in mortal veins are hinted at during the course of a
romance which cannot help being interesting despite the persistent
incubus of moral allegory, anti-Popery propaganda, and a Puritan prudery
which has caused the modern writer D. H. Lawrence to express a longing to
treat the author in a highly undignified manner. Septimius Felton, a
posthumous novel whose idea was to have been elaborated and incorporated
into the unfinished Dolliver Romance, touches on the Elixir of Life in a
more or less capable fashion whilst the notes for a never-written tale to
be called The Ancestral Footstep show what Hawthorne would have done with
an intensive treatment of an old English superstition--that of an ancient
and accursed line whose members left footprints of blood as they
walked-which appears incidentally in both Septimius Felton and Dr.
Grimshawe's Secret.

Many of Hawthorne's shorter tales exhibit weirdness, either of atmosphere
or of incident, to a remarkable degree. Edward Randolph's Portrait, in
Legends of the Province House, has its diabolic moments. The Minister's
Black Veil (founded on an actual incident) and The Ambitious Guest imply
much more than they state, whilst Ethan Grand--a fragment of a longer
work never completed--rises to genuine heights of cosmic fear with its
vignette of the wild hill country and the blazing, desolate lime-kilns,
and its delineation of the Byronic "unpardonable sinner," whose troubled
life ends with a peal of fearful laughter in the night as he seeks rest
amidst the flames of the furnace. Some of Hawthorne's notes tell of weird
tales he would have written had he lived longer--an especially vivid plot
being that concerning a baffling stranger who appeared now and then in
public assemblies, and who was at last followed and found to come and go
from a very ancient grave.

But foremost as a finished, artistic unit among all our author's weird
material is the famous and exquisitely wrought novel, The House of the
Seven Gables, in which the relentless working out of an ancestral curse
is developed with astonishing power against the sinister background of a
very ancient Salem house--one of those peaked Gothic affairs which formed
the first regular building-up of our New England coast towns but which
gave way after the seventeenth century to the more familiar
gambrel-roofed or classic Georgian types now known as "Colonial." Of
these old gabled Gothic houses scarcely a dozen are to be seen today in
their original condition throughout the United States, but one well known
to Hawthorne still stands in Turner Street, Salem, and is pointed out
with doubtful authority as the scene and inspiration of the romance. Such
an edifice, with its spectral peaks, its clustered chimneys, its
overhanging second story, its grotesque corner-brackets, and its
diamond-paned lattice windows, is indeed an object well calculated to
evoke sombre reflections; typifying as it does the dark Puritan age of
concealed horror and witch-whispers which preceded the beauty,
rationality, and spaciousness of the eighteenth century. Hawthorne saw
many in his youth, and knew the black tales connected with some of them.
He heard, too, many rumours of a curse upon his own line as the result of
his great-grandfather's severity as a witchcraft judge in 1692.

From this setting came the immortal tale--New England's greatest
contribution to weird literature--and we can feel in an instant the
authenticity of the atomosphere presented to us. Stealthy horror and
disease lurk within the weather-blackened, moss-crusted, and elm-shadowed
walls of the archaic dwelling so vividly displayed, and we grasp the
brooding malignity of the place when we read that its builder--old
Colonel Pyncheon--snatched the land with peculiar ruthlessness from its
original settler, Matthew Maule, whom he condemned to the gallows as a
wizard in the year of the panic. Maule died cursing old Pyncheon--"God
will give him blood to drink"--and the waters of the old well on the
seized land turned bitter. Maule's carpenter son consented to build the
great gabled house for his fathet's triumphant enemy, but the old Colonel
died strangely on the day of its dedication. Then followed generations of
odd vicissitudes, with queer whispers about the dark powers of the
Maules, and sometimes terrible ends befalling the Pyncheons.

The overshadowing malevolence of the ancient house--almost as alive as
Poe's House of Usher, though in a subtler way--pervades the tale as a
recurrent motif pervades in operatic tragedy; and when the main story is
reached, we behold the modern Pyncheons in a pitiable state of decay.
Poor old Hepzibah, the eccentric reduced gentlewoman; childlike,
unfortunate Clifford, just released from undeserved imprisonment; sly and
treacherous judge Pyncheon, who is the old Colonel an over again--all
these figures are tremendous symbols, and are well matched by the stunted
vegetation and anmic fowls in the garden. It was almost a pity to supply
a fairly happy ending, with a union of sprightly Phoebe, cousin
and last scion of the Pyncheons, to the prepossessing young
man who turns out to be the last of the Maules. This union,
presumably, ends the curse. Hawthorne avoids all violence of diction or
movement, and keeps his implications of terror well in the background;
but occasional glimpses amply serve to sustain the mood and redeem the
work from pure allegorical aridity. Incidents like the bewitching of
Alice Pyncheon in the early eighteenth century, and the spectral music of
her harpsichord which precedes a death in the family--the latter a
variant of an immemorial type of Aryan myth--link the action directly
with the supernatural; whilst the dead nocturnal vigil of old judge
Pyncheon in the ancient parlour, with his frightfully ticking watch, is
stark horror of the most poignant and genuine sort. The way in which the
judge's death is first adumbrated by the motions and sniffing of a
strange cat outside the window, long before the fact is suspected by the
reader or by any of the characters, is a stroke of genius which Poe could
not have surpassed. Later the strange cat watches intently outside that
same window in the night and on the next day, for--something. It is
clearly the psychopomp of primeval myth, fitted and adapted with infinite
deftness to its latter-day setting.

But Hawthorne left no well-defined literary posterity. His mood and
attitude belonged to the age which closed with him, and it is the spirit
of Poe--who so clearly and realistically understood the natural basis of
the horror-appeal and the correct mechanics of its achievement--which
survived and blossomed. Among the earliest of Poe's disciples may be
reckoned the brilliant young Irishman Fitz James O'Brien (1828-1862), who
became naturalised as an American and perished honourably in the Civil
War. It is he who gave us What Was It?, the first well-shaped short story
of a tangible but invisible being, and the prototype of de Maupassant's
Horla; he also who created the inimitable Diamond Lens, in which a young
microscopist falls in love with a maiden of in infinitesimal world which
he has discovered in a drop of water. O'Brien's early death undoubtedly
deprived us of some masterful tales of strangeness and terror, though his
genius was not, properly speaking, of the same titan quality which
characterised Poe and Hawthorne.

Closer to real greatness was the eccentric and saturnine journalist
Ambrose Bierce, born in 1842; who likewise entered the Civil War, but
survived to write some immortal tales and to disappear in 1913 in as
great a cloud of mystery as any he ever evoked from his nightmare fancy.
Bierce was a satirist and pamphleteer of note, but the bulk of his
artistic reputation must rest upon his grim and savage short stories; a
large number of which deal with the Civil War and form the most vivid and
realistic expression which that conflict has yet received in fiction.
Virtually all of Bierce's tales are tales of horror; and whilst many of
them treat only of the physical and psychological horrors within Nature,
a substantial proportion admit the malignly supernatural and form a
leading element in America's fund of weird literature. Mr. Samuel
Loveman, a living poet and critic who was personally acquainted with
Bierce, thus sums up the genius of the great "shadow-maker" in the
preface to some of his letters:

In Bierce the evocation of horror becomes for the first time not so much
the prescription or perversion of Poe and Maupassant, but an atmosphere
definite and uncannily precise. Words, so simple that one would be prone
to ascribe them to the limitations of a literary hack, take on an unholy
horror, a new and unguessed transformation. In Poe one finds it a tour de
force, in Maupassant a nervous engagement of the flagellated climax. To
Bierce, simply and sincerely, diabolism held in its tormented death a
legitimate and reliant means to the end. Yet a tacit confirmation with
Nature is in every instance insisted upon.

In The Death of Halpin Frayser flowers, verdure, and the boughs and
leaves of trees are magnificently placed as an opposing foil to unnatural
malignity. Not the accustomed golden world, but a world pervaded with the
mystery of blue and the breathless recalcitrance of dreams is Bierces.
Yet, curiously, inhumanity is not altogether absent.

The "inhumanity" mentioned by Mr. Loveman finds vent in a rare strain of
sardonic comedy and graveyard humour, and a kind of delight in images of
cruelty and tantalising disappointment. The former quality is well
illustrated by some of the subtitles in the darker narratives; such as
"One does not always eat what is on the table", describing a body laid
out for a coroner's inquest, and "A man though naked may be in rags,"
referring to a frightfully mangled corpse.

Bierce's work is in general somewhat uneven. Many of the stories are
obviously mechanical, and marred by a jaunty and commonplacely artificial
style derived from journalistic models; but the grim malevolence stalking
through all of them is unmistakable, and several stand out as permanent
mountain-peaks of American weird writing. The Death of Halpin Frayser,
called by Frederic Taber Cooper the most fiendishly ghastly tale in the
literature of the Anglo-Saxon race, tells of a body skulking by night
without a soul in a weird and horribly ensanguined wood, and of a man
beset by ancestral memories who met death at the claws of that which had
been his fervently loved mother. The Damned Thing, frequently copied in
popular anthologies, chronicles the hideous devastations of an invisible
entity that waddles and flounders on the hills and in the wheatfields by
night and day. The Suitable Surroundings evoke's with singular subtlety
yet apparent simplicity a piercing sense of the terror which may reside
in the written word. In the story the weird author Colston says to his
friend Marsh, "You are brave enough to read me in a street-car, but--in a
deserted house--alone--in the forest--at night! Bah! I have a manuscript
in my pocket that would kill you!" Marsh reads the manuscript in the
suitable surroundings--and it does kill him. The Middle Toe of the Right
Foot is clumsily developed, but has a powerful climax. A man named Manton
has horribly killed his two children and his wife, the latter of whom
lacked the middle toe of the right foot. Ten years later he returns much
altered to the neighbourhood; and, being secretly recognised, is provoked
into a bowie-knife duel in the dark, to be held in the now abandond house
where his crime was committed. When the moment of the duel arrives a
trick is played upon him; and he is left without an antagonist, shut in a
night-black ground floor room of the reputedly haunted edifice, with the
thick dust of a decade on every hand. No, knife is drawn against him, for
only a thorough scare is intended; but on the next day he is found
crouched in a corner with distorted face, dead of sheer fright at
something he has seen. The only clue visible to the discoverers is one
having terrible implications: "In the dust of years that lay thick upon
the floor--leading from the door by which they had entered, straight
across the room to within a yard of Manton's crouching corpse--were three
parallel lines of footprints--light but definite impressions of bare
feet, the outer ones those of small children, the inner a woman's. From
the point at which they ended they did not return; they pointed all one
way." And, of course, the woman's prints showed a lack of the middle toe
of the right foot. The Spook House, told with a severely homely air of
journalistic verisimilitude, conveys terrible hints of shocking mystery.
In 1858 an entire family of seven persons disappears suddenly and
unaccountably from a plantation house in eastern Kentucky, leaving all
its possessions untouched--furniture, clothing, food supplies, horses,
cattle, and slaves. About a year later two men of high standing are
forced by a storm to take shelter in the deserted dwelling, and in so
doing stumble into a strange subterranean room lit by an unaccountable
greenish light and having an iron door which cannot be opened from
within. In this room lie the decayed corpses of all the missing family;
and as one of the discoverers rushes forward to embrace a body he seems
to recognise, the other is so overpowered by a strange foetor that he
accidentally shuts his companion in the vault and loses consciousness.
Recovering his senses six weeks later, the survivor is unable to find the
hidden room; and the house is burned during the Civil War. The imprisoned
discoverer is never seen or heard of again.

Bierce seldom realises the atmospheric possibilities of his themes as
vividly as Poe; and much of his work contains a certain touch of naivet,
prosaic angularity, or early-American provincialism which contrasts
somewhat with the efforts of later horror-masters. Nevertheless the
genuineness and artistry of his dark intimations are always unmistakable,
so that his greatness is in no danger of eclipse. As arranged in his
definitively collected works, Bierce's weird tales occur mainly in two
volumes, Can Such Things Be? and In the Midst of Life. The former,
indeed, is almost wholly given over to, the supernatural.

Much of the best in American horror-literature has come from pens not
mainly devoted to that medium. Oliver Wendell Holmes's historic Elsie
Venner suggests with admirable restraint an unnatural ophidian element in
a young woman prenatally influenced, and sustains the atmosphere with
finely discriminating landscape touches. In The Turn of the Screw Henry
James triumphs over his inevitable pomposity and prolixity sufficiently
well to create a truly potent air of sinister menace; depicting the
hideous influence of two dead and evil servants, Peter Quint and the
governess, Miss Jessel, over a small boy and girl who had been under
their care. James is perhaps too diffuse, too unctuously urbane, and too
much addicted to subtleties of speech to realise fully all the wild and
devastating horror in his situations; but for all that there is a rare
and mounting tide of fright, culminating in the death of the little boy,
which gives the novelette a permanent place in its special class.

F. Marion Crawford produced several weird tales of varying quality, now
collected in a volume entitled Wandering Ghosts. For the Blood Is the
Life touches powerfully on a case of moon-cursed vampirism near an
ancient tower on the rocks of the lonely South Italian seacoast. The Dead
Smile treats of family horrors in an old house and an ancestral vault in
Ireland, and introduces the banshee with considerable force. The Upper
Berth, however, is Crawford's weird masterpiece; and is one of the most
tremendous horror-stories in all literature. In this tale of a
suicide-haunted stateroom such things as the spectral saltwater dampness,
the strangely open porthole, and the nightmare struggle with the nameless
object are handled with incomparable dexterity.

Very genuine, though not without the typical mannered extravagance of the
eighteen-nineties, is the strain of horror in the early work of Robert W.
Chambers, since renowned for products of a very different quality. The
King in Yellow, a series of vaguely connected short stories having as a
background a monstrous and suppressed book whose perusal brings fright,
madness, and spectral tragedy, really achieves notable heights of cosmic
fear in spite of uneven interest and a somewhat trivial and affected
cultivation of the Gallic studio atmosphere made popular by Du Maurier's
Trilby. The most powerful of its tales, perhaps, is The Yellow Sign, in
which is introduced a silent and terrible churchyard watchman with a face
like a puffy grave-worm's. A boy, describing a tussle he has had with
this creature, shivers and sickens as he relates a certain detail. "Well,
it's Gawd's truth that when I 'it 'im 'e grabbed me wrists, Sir, and when
I twisted 'is soft, mushy fist one of 'is fingers come off in me 'and."
An artist, who after seeing him has shared with another a strange dream
of a nocturnal hearse, is shocked by the voice with which the watchman
accosts him. The fellow emits a muttering sound that fills the head "like
thick oily smoke from a fat-rendering vat or an odour of noisome decay."
What he mumbles is merely this: "Have you found the Yellow Sign?"

A weirdly hieroglyphed onyx talisman, picked up on the street by the
sharer of his dream, is shortly given the artist; and after stumbling
queerly upon the hellish and forbidden book of horrors the two learn,
among other hideous things which no sane mortal should know, that this
talisman is indeed the nameless Yellow Sign handed down from the accursed
cult of Hastur--from primordial Carcosa, whereof the volume treats, and
some nightmare memory of which seeks to lurk latent and ominous at the
back of all men's minds. Soon they hear the rumbling of the black-plumed
hearse driven by the flabby and corpse-faced watchman. He enters the
night-shrouded house in quest of the Yellow Sign, all bolts and bars
rotting at his touch. And when the people rush in, drawn by a scream that
no human throat could utter, they find three forms on the floor--two dead
and one dying. One of the dead shapes is far gone in decay. It is the
churchyard watchman, and the doctor exclaims, "That man must have been
dead for months." It is worth observing that the author derives most of
the names and allusions connected with his eldritch land of primal memory
from the tales of Ambrose Bierce. Other early works of Mr. Chambers
displaying the outr and macabre element are The Maker of Moons and In
Search of the Unknown. One cannot help regretting that he did not further
develop a vein in which he could so easily have become a recognised

Horror material of authentic force may be found in the work of the New
England realist Mary E. Wilkins, whose volume of short tales, The Wind in
the Rosebush, contains a number of noteworthy achievements. In The
Shadows on the Wall we are shown with consummate skill the response of a
staid New England household to uncanny tragedy; and the sourceless shadow
of the poisoned brother well prepares us for the climactic moment when
the shadow of the secret murderer, who has killed himself in a
neighbouring city, suddenly appears beside it. Charlotte Perkins Gilman,
in The Yellow Wall Paper, rises to a classic level in subtly delineating
the madness which crawls over a woman dwelling in the hideously papered
room where a madwoman was once confined.

In The Dead Valley the eminent architect and medivalist Ralph Adams Cram
achieves a memorably potent degree of vague regional horror through
subtleties of atmosphere and description.

Still further carrying on our spectral tradition is the gifted and
versatile humourist Irvin S. Cobb, whose work both early and recent
contains some finely weird specimens. Fishhead, an early achievement, is
banefully effective in its portrayal of unnatural affinities between a
hybrid idiot and the strange fish of an isolated lake, which at the last
avenge their biped kinsman's murder. Later work of Mr. Cobb introduces an
element of possible science, as in the tale of hereditary memory where a
modern man with a negroid strain utters words in African jungle speech
when run down by a train under visual and aural circumstances recalling
the maiming of his black ancestor by a rhinoceros a century before.

Extremely high in artistic stature is the novel The Dark Chamber (1927)
by the late Leonard Cline. This is the tale of a man who--with the
characteristic ambition of the Gothic or Byronic hero-villain--seeks to
defy nature and recapture every moment of his past life through the
abnormal stimulation of memory. To this end he employs endless notes,
records, mnemonic objects, and pictures--and finally odours, music, and
exotic drugs. At last his ambition goes beyond his personal life and
readies toward the black abysses of hereditary memory--even back to
pre-human days amidst the steaming swamps of the carboniferous age, and
to still more unimaginable deeps of primal time and entity. He calls for
madder music and takes stranger drugs, and finally his great dog grows
oddly afraid of him. A noxious animal stench encompasses him, and he
grows vacant-faced and subhuman. In the end he takes to the woods,
howling at night beneath windows. He is finally found in a thicket,
mangled to death. Beside him is the mangled corpse of his dog. They have
killed each other. The atmosphere of this novel is malevolently potent,
much attention being paid to the central figure's sinister home and

A less subtle and well-balanced but nevertheless highly effective
creation is Herbert S. Gorman's novel, The Place Called Dagon, which
relates the dark history of a western Massachusetts back-water where the
descendants of refugees from the Salem witchcraft still keep alive the
morbid and degenerate horrors of the Black Sabbat.

Sinister House, by Leland Hall, has touches of magnificent atmosphere but
is marred by a somewhat mediocre romanticism.

Very notable in their way are some of the weird conceptions of the
novelist and short-story writer Edward Lucas White, most of whose themes
arise from actual dreams. The Song of The Siren has a very persuasive
strangeness, while such things as Lukundoo and The Snout arouse darker
apprehensions. Mr. White imparts a very peculiar quality to his tales--an
oblique sort of glamour which has its own distinctive type of

Of younger Americans, none strikes the note of cosmic horror so well as
the California poet, artist and fictionist Clark Ashton Smith, whose
bizarre writing, drawings, paintings and stories are the delight of a
sensitive few. Mr. Smith has for his background a universe of remote and
paralysing fright-jungles of poisonous and iridescent blossoms on the
moons of Saturn, evil and grotesque temples in Atlantis, Lemuria, and
forgotten elder worlds, and dank morasses of spotted death-fungi in
spectral countries beyond earth's rim. His longest and most ambitious
poem, The Hashish-Eater, is in pentameter blank verse; and opens up
chaotic and incredible vistas of kaleidoscopic nightmare in the spaces
between the stars. In sheet dmonic strangeness and fertility of
conception, Mr. Smith is perhaps unexcelled by, any, other writer dead or
living. Who else has seen such gorgeous, luxuriant, and feverishly
distorted visions of infinite spheres and multiple dimensions and lived
to tell the tale? His short stories deal powerfully with other galaxies,
worlds, and dimensions, as well as with strange regions and ons on the
earth. He tells of primal Hyperborea and its black amorphous god
Tsathoggua; of the lost continent Zothique, and of the fabulous,
Vampire-curst land of Averoigne in medival France. Some of Mr. Smith's
best work can be found in the brochure entitled The Double Shadow and
Other Fantasies (1933).


RECENT British literature, besides including the three or four greatest
fantaisistes of the present age, has been gratifyingly fertile in the
element of the weird. Rudyard Kipling has often approached it, and has,
despite the omnipresent mannerisms, handled it with indubitable mastery
in such tales as The Phantom Rickshaw, The Finest Story in the World, The
Recrudescence of Imray, and The Mark of the Beast. This latter is of
particular poignancy; the pictures of the naked leper-priest who mewed
like an otter, of the spots which appeared on the chest of the man that
priest cursed, of the growing carnivorousness of the victim and of the
fear which horses began to display toward him, and of the eventually
half-accomplished transformation of that victim into a leopard, being
things which no reader is ever likely to forget. The final defeat of the
malignant sorcery does not impair the force of the tale or the validity
of its mystery.

Lafcadio Hearn, strange, wandering, and exotic, departs still farther
from the realm of the real; and with the supreme artistry of a sensitive
poet weaves phantasies impossible to an author of the solid roast beef
type. His Fantastics, written in America, contains some of the most
impressive ghoulishness in all literature; whilst his Kwaidan, written in
Japan, crystallises with matchless skill and delicacy the eerie lore and
whispered legends of that richly colourful nation. Still more of Helm's
wizardry of language is shown in some of his translations from the
French, especially from Gautier and Flaubert. His version of the latter's
Temptation of St. Anthony is a classic of fevered and riotous imagery
clad in the magic of singing words.

Oscar Wilde may likewise be given a place amongst weird writers, both for
certain of his exquisite fairy tales, and for his vivid Picture of Dorian
Gray, in which a marvellous portrait for years assumes the duty of aging
and coarsening instead of its original, who meanwhile plunges into every
excess of vice and crime without the outward loss of youth, beauty, and
freshness. There is a sudden and potent climax when Dorian Gray, at last
become a murderer, seeks to destroy the painting whose changes testify to
his moral degeneracy. He stabs it with a knife, and a hideous cry and
crash are heard; but when the servants enter they find it in all its
pristine loveliness. "Lying on the floor was a dead man, in evening
dress, with a knife in his heart. He was withered, wrinkled, and
loathsome of visage. It was not until they had examined the rings that
they recognised who he was."

Matthew Phipps Shiel, author of many weird, grotesque, and adventurous
novels and tales, occasionally attains a high level of horrific magic.
Xelucha is a noxiously hideous fragment, but is excelled by Mr. Shiel's
undoubted masterpiece, The House of Sounds, floridly written in the
"yellow nineties," and recast with more artistic restraint in the early
twentieth century. Ibis story, in final form, deserves a place among the
foremost things of its kind. It tells of a creeping horror and menace
trickling down the centuries on a sub-arctic island off the coast of
Norway; where, amidst the sweep of daemon winds and the ceaseless din of
hellish waves and cataracts, a vengeful dead man built a brazen tower of
terror. It is vaguely like, yet infinitely unlike, Poe's Fall of the
House of Usher. In the novel The Purple Cloud Mr. Shiel describes with
tremendous power a curse which came out of the arctic to destroy mankind,
and which for a time appears to have left but a single inhabitant on our
planet. The sensations of this lone survivor as he realises his position,
and roams through the corpse-littered and treasure-strewn cities of the
world as their absolute master, are delivered with a skill and artistry
falling little short of actual majesty. Unfortunately the second half of
the book, with its conventionally romantic element, involves a distinct

Better known than Shiel is the ingenious Bram Stoker, who created many
starkly horrific conceptions in a series of novels whose poor technique
sadly impairs their net effect. The Lair of the White Worm, dealing with
a gigantic primitive entity that lurks in a vault beneath an ancient
castle, utterly ruins a magnificent idea by a development almost
infantile. The Jewel of Seven Stars, touching on a strange Egyptian
resurrection, is less crudely written. But best of all is the famous
Dracula, which has become almost the standard modern exploitation of the
frightful vampire myth. Count Dracula, a vampire, dwells in a horrible
castle in the Carpathians, but finally migrates to England with the
design of populating the country with fellow vampires. How an Englishman
fares within Dracula's stronghold of terrors, and how the dead fiend's
plot for domination is at last defeated, are elements which unite to form
a tale now justly assigned a permanent place in English letters. Dracula
evoked many similar novels of supernatural horror, among which the best
are perhaps The Beetle, by Richard Marsh, Brood of the Witch-Queen, by
"Sax Rohmer" (Arthur Sarsfield Ward), and The Door of the Unreal, by
Gerald Bliss. The latter handles quite dexterously the standard werewolf
superstition. Much subtler and more artistic, and told with singular
skill through the juxtaposed narratives of the several characters, is the
novel Cold Harbour, by Francis Brett Young, in which an ancient house of
strange malignancy is powerfully delineated. The mocking and well-nigh
omnipotent fiend Humphrey Furnival holds echoes of the Manfred-Montoni
type of early Gothic "villain," but is redeemed from triteness by many
clever individualities. Only the slight diffuseness of explanation at the
close, and the somewhat too free use of divination as a plot factor, keep
this tale from approaching absolute perfection.

In the novel Witch Wood John Buchan depicts with tremendous force a
survival of the evil Sabbat in a lonely district of Scotland. The
description of the black forest with the evil stone, and of the terrible
cosmic adumbrations when the horror is finally extirpated, will repay one
for wading through the very gradual action and plethora of Scottish
dialect. Some of Mr. Buchan's short stories are also extremely vivid in
their spectral intimations; The Green Wildebeest, a tale of African
witchcraft, The Wind in the Portico, with its awakening of dead
Britanno-Roman horrors, and Skule Skerry, with its touches of sub-arctic
fright, being especially remarkable.

Clemence Housman, in the brief novelette The Werewolf, attains a high
degree of gruesome tension and achieves to some extent the atmosphere of
authentic folklore. In The Elixir of Life Arthur Ransome attains some
darkly excellent effects despite a general naivet of plot, while H. B.
Drake's The Shadowy Thing summons up strange and terrible vistas. George
Macdonald's Lilith has a compelling bizarrerie all its own, the first and
simpler of the two versions being perhaps the more effective.

Deserving of distinguished notice as a forceful craftsman to whom an
unseen mystic world is, ever a dose and vital reality is the poet Walter
de la Mare, whose haunting verse and exquisite prose alike bear
consistent traces of a strange vision reaching deeply into veiled spheres
of beauty and terrible and forbidden dimensions of being. In the novel
The Return we see the soul of a dead man reach out of its grave of two
centuries and fasten itself upon the flesh of the living, so that even
the face of the victim becomes that which had long ago returned to dust.
Of the shorter tales, of which several volumes exist, many are
unforgettable for their command of fear's and sorcery's darkest
ramifications; notably Seaton's Aunt, in which there lowers a noxious
background of malignant vampirism; The Tree, which tells of a frightful
vegetable growth in the yard of a starving artist; Out of the Deep,
wherein we are given leave to imagine what thing answered the summons of
a dying wastrel in a dark lonely house when he pulled a long-feared
bell-cord in the attic of his dread-haunted boyhood; A Recluse, which
hints at what sent a chance guest flying from a house in the night; Mr.
Kempe, which shows us a mad clerical hermit in quest of the human soul,
dwelling in a frightful sea-cliff region beside an archaic abandoned
chapel; and All-Hallows, a glimpse of dmoniac forces besieging a lonely
mediaeval church and miraculously restoring the rotting masonry. De la
Mare does not make fear the sole or even the dominant element of most of
his tales, being apparently more interested in the subtleties of
character involved. Occasionally he sinks to sheer whimisical phantasy of
the Barrie order. Still he is among the very few to whom unreality is a
vivid, living presence; and as such he is able to put into his occasional
fear-studies a keen potency which only a rare master can achieve. His
poem The Listeners restores the Gothic shudder to modern verse.

The weird short story has fared well of late, an important contributor
being the versatile E. F. Benson, whose The Man Who Went Too Far breathes
whisperingly of a house at the edge of a dark wood, and of Pan's
hoof-mark on the breast of a dead man. Mr. Benson's volume, Visible and
Invisible, contains several stories of singular power; notably Negotiam
Perambulans, whose unfolding reveals an abnormal monster from an ancient
ecclesiastical panel which performs an act of miraculous vengeance in a
lonely village on the Cornish coast, and The Horror-Horn, through which
lopes a terrible half-human survival dwelling on unvisited Alpine peaks.
The Face, in another collection, is lethally potent, in its relentless
aura of doom. H. R. Wakefield, in his collections, They Return at Evening
and Others Who Return, manages now and then to achieve great heights of
horror despite a vitiating air of sophistication. The most notable
stories are The Red Lodge with its slimy acqueous evil, He Cometh and He
Passeth By, And He Shall Sing, The Cairn, Look Up There, Blind Man's
Buff, and that bit of lurking millennial horror, The Seventeenth Hole at
Duncaster. Mention has been made of the weird work of H.G. Wells and A.
Conan Doyle. The former, in The Ghost of Fear, reaches a very high level
while all the items in Thirty Strange Stories have strong fantastic
implications. Doyle now and then struck a powerfully spectral note, as in
The Captain of the Pole-Star, a tale of arctic ghostliness, and Lot No.
249, wherein the reanimated mummy theme is used with more than ordinary
skill. Hugh Walpole, of the same family as the founder of Gothic fiction,
has sometimes approached the bizarre with much success, his short story
Mrs. Lunt carrying a very poignant shudder. John Metcalfe, in the
collection published as The Smoking Leg, attains now and then a rare
pitch of potency, the tale entitled The Bad Lands, containing graduations
of horror that strongly savour of genius. More whimiscial and inclined
toward the amiable and innocuous phantasy of Sir J. M. Barrie are the
short tales of E.M. Forster, grouped under the title of The Celestial
Omnibus. Of these only one, dealing with a glimpse of Pan and his aura of
fright, may be said to hold the true element of cosmic horror. Mrs. H.D.
Everett, though adhering to very old and conventional models,
occasionally reaches singular heights of spiritual terror in her
collection of short stories, The Death Mask. L. P. Hartley is notable for
his incisive and extremely ghastly tale, A Visitor from Down Under, May
Sinclair's Uncanny Stories contain more of traditional "occultism" than
of that creative treatment of fear which marks mastery in this field, and
are inclined to lay more stress on human emotions and psychological
delving than upon the stark phenomena of a cosmos utterly unreal. It may
be well to remark here that occult believers are probably less effective
than materialists in delineating the spectral and the fantastic, since to
them the phantom world is so commonplace a reality that they tend to
refer to it with less awe, remoteness, and impressiveness thin do those
who see in it an absolute and stupendous violation of the natural order.

Of rather uneven stylistic quality, but vast occasional power in its
suggestion of lurking worlds and beings behind the ordinary surface of
life, is the work of William Hope Hodgson, known today far less than it
deserves to be. Despite a tendency toward conventionally sentimental
conceptions of the universe, and of man's relation to it and to his
fellows, Mr. Hodgson is perhaps second only to Algernon Blackwood in his
serious treatment of unreality. Few can equal him in adumbrating the
nearness of nameless forces and monstrous besieging entities through
casual hints and insignificant details, or in conveying feelings of the
spectral and the abnormal in connection with regions or buildings.

In The Boats of the Glen Carrig (1907) we are shown a variety of malign
marvels and accursed unknown lands as encountered by the survivors of a
sunken ship. The brooding menace in the earlier parts of the book is
impossible to surpass, though a letdown in the direction of ordinary
romance and adventure occurs toward the end. An inaccurate and
pseudo-romantic attempt to reproduce eighteenth-century prose detracts
from the general effect, but the really profound nautical erudition
everywhere displayed is a compensating factor.

The House on the Borderland (1908)--perhaps the greatest of all Mr.
Hodgson's works--tells of a lonely and evilly regarded house in Ireland
which forms a focus for hideous otherworld forces and sustains a siege by
blasphemous hybrid anomalies from a hidden abyss below. The wanderings of
the Narrator's spirit through limitless light-years of cosmic space and
Kalpas of eternity, and its witnessing of the solar system's final
destruction, constitute something almost unique in standard literature.
And everywhere there is manifest the author's power to suggest vague,
ambushed horrors in natural scenery. But for a few touches of commonplace
sentimentality this book would be a classic of the first water.

The Ghost Pirates (1909), regarded by Mr. Hodgson as rounding out a
trilogy with the two previously mentioned works, is a powerful account of
a doomed and haunted ship on its last voyage, and of the terrible
sea-devils (of quasi-human aspect, and perhaps the spirits of bygone
buccaneers) that besiege it and finally drag it down to an unknown fate.
With its command of maritime knowledge, and its clever selection of hints
and incidents suggestive of latent horrors in nature, this book at times
reaches enviable peaks of power.

The Night Land (1912) is a long-extended (538 pp.) tale of the earth's
infinitely remote future-billions of billions of years ahead, after the
death of the sun. It is told in a rather clumsy fashion, as the dreams of
a man in the seventeenth century, whose mind merges with its own future
incarnation; and is seriously marred by painful verboseness,
repetitiousness, artificial and nauseously sticky romantic
sentimentality, and an attempt at archaic language even more grotesque
and absurd than that in Glen Carrig.

Allowing for all its faults, it is yet one of the most potent pieces of
macabre imagination ever written. The picture of a night-black, dead
planet, with the remains of the human race concentrated in a stupendously
vast mental pyramid and besieged by monstrous, hybrid, and altogether
unknown forces of the darkness, is something that no reader can ever
forget: Shapes and entities of an altogether non-human and inconceivable
sort--the prowlers of the black, man-forsaken, and unexplored world
outside the pyramid--are suggested and partly described with ineffable
potency; while the night-land landscape with its chasms and slopes and
dying volcanism takes on an almost sentient terror beneath the author's

Midway in the book the central figure ventures outside the pyramid on a
quest through death-haunted realms untrod by man for millions of
years--and in his slow, minutely described, day-by-day progress over
unthinkable leagues of immemorial blackness there is a sense of cosmic
alienage, breathless mystery, and terrified expectancy unrivalled in the
whole range of literature. The last quarter of the book drags woefully,
but fails to spoil the tremendous power of the whole. Mr. Hodgson's later
volume, Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder, consists of several longish short
stories published many years before in magazines. In quality it falls
conspicuously below the level of the other books. We here find a more or
less conventional stock figure of the "infallible detective" type--the
progeny of M. Dupin and Sherlock Holmes, and the close kin of Algernon
Blackwood's John Silence--moving through scenes and events badly marred
by an atmosphere of professional "occultism." A few of the episodes,
however, are of undeniable power, and afford glimpses of the peculiar
genius characteristic of the author.

Naturally it is impossible in brief sketch to trace out all the classic
modern uses of the terror element. The ingredient must of necessity enter
into all work, both prose and verse, treating broadly of life; and we are
therefore not surprised to find a share in such writers as the poet
Browning, whose Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came is instinct with
hideous menace, or the novelist Joseph Conrad, who often wrote of the
dark secrets within the sea, and of the dmoniac driving power of Fate as
influencing the lives of lonely and maniacally resolute men. Its trail is
one of infinite ramifications; but we must here confine ourselves to its
appearance in a relatively unmixed state, where it determines and
dominates the work of art containing it.

Somewhat separate from the main British stream is that current of
weirdness in Irish literature which came to the fore in the Celtic
Renaissance of the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Ghost
and fairy lore have always been of great prominence in Ireland, and for
over a hundred years have been recorded by a line of such faithful
transcribers and translators as William Carleton, T. Crofton Croker, Lady
Wilde--mother of Oscar Wilde--Douglas Hyde, and W.B. Yeats. Brought to
notice by the modern movement, this body of myth has been carefully
collected and studied; and its salient features reproduced in the work of
later figures like Yeats, J. M. Synge, "A. E.," Lady Gregory, Padraic
Colum, James Stephens and their colleagues.

Whilst on the whole more whimsically fantastic than terrible, such
folklore and its consciously artistic counterparts contain much that
falls truly within the domain of cosmic horror. Tales of burials in
sunken churches beneath haunted lakes, accounts of death-heralding
banshees and sinister changelings, ballads of spectres and "the unholy
creatures of the Raths"--all these have their poignant and definite
shivers, and mark a strong and distinctive element in weird literature.
Despite homely grotesqueness and absolute naivet, there is genuine
nightmare in the class of narrative represented by the yarn of Teig
O'Kane, who in punishment for his wild life was ridden all night by a
hideous corpse that demanded burial and drove him from churchyard to
churchyard as the dead rose up loathsomely in each one and refused to
accommodate the newcomer with a berth. Yeats, undoubtedly the greatest
figure of the Irish revival if not the greatest of all living poets, has
accomplished notable things both in original work and in the codification
of old legends.


THE best horror-tales of today, profiting by the long evolution of the
type, possess a naturalness, convincingness, artistic smoothness, and
skilful intensity of appeal quite beyond comparison with anything in the
Gothic work of a century or more ago. Technique, craftsmanship,
experience, and psychological knowledge have advanced tremendously with
the passing years, so that much of the older work seems naive and
artificial; redeemed, when redeemed at all, only by a genius which
conquers heavy limitations. The tone of jaunty and inflated romance, full
of false motivation and investing every conceivable event with a
counterfeit significance and carelessly inclusive glamour, is now
confined to lighter and more whimiscal phases of supernatural writing.
Serious weird stories are either made realistically intense by dose
consistency and perfect fidelity to Nature except in the one supernatural
direction which the author allows himself, or else cast altogether in the
realm of phantasy, with atmosphere cunningly adapted to the visualisation
of a delicately exotic world of unreality beyond space and time, in which
almost anything may happen if it but happen in true accord with certain
types of imagination and illusion normal to the sensitive human brain.
This, at least, is the dominant tendency; though of course many great
contemporary writers slip occasionally into some of the flashy postures
of immature romanticism or into bits of the equally empty and absurd
jargon of pseudo-scientific "occultism," now at one of its periodic high

Of living creators of cosmic fear raised to its most artistic pitch, few
if any can hope to equal the versatile Arthur Machen, author of some
dozen tales long and short, in which the elements of hidden horror and
brooding fright attain an almost incomparable substance and realistic
acuteness. Mr. Machen, a general man of letters and master of an
exquisitely lyrical and expressive prose style, has perhaps put more
conscious effort into his picaresque Chronicles of Clemendy, his
refreshing essays, his vivid autobiographical volumes, his fresh and
spirited translations, and above all his memorable epic of the sensitive
sthetic mind, The Hill of Dreams, in which the youthful hero responds to
the magic of that ancient Welsh environment which is the author's own,
and lives a dream-life in the Roman city of Isca Silurum, now shrunk to
the relic-strown village of Caerleon-on-Usk. But the fact remains that
his powerful horror-material of the nineties and earlier
nineteen-hundreds stands alone in its class, and marks a distinct epoch
in the history of this literary form.

Mr. Machen, with an impressionable Celtic heritage linked to keen
youthful memories of the wild domed hills, archaic forests, and cryptical
Roman ruins of the Gwent countryside, has developed an imaginative life
of rare beauty, intensity, and historic background. He has absorbed the
mediaeval mystery of dark woods and ancient customs, and is a champion of
the Middle Ages in all things--including the Catholic faith. He has
yielded, likewise, to the spell of the Britanno-Roman life which once
surged over his native region; and finds strange magic in the fortified
camps, tessellated pavements, fragments of statues, and kindred things
which tell of the day when classicism reigned and Latin was the language
of the country. A young American poet, Frank Belknap Long, has well
summarised this dreamer's rich endowments and wizardry of expression in
the sonnet On Reading Arthur Machen:

There is a glory in the autumn wood,
The ancient lanes of England wind and climb
Past wizard oaks and gorse and tangled thyme
To where a fort of mighty empire stood:
There is a glamour in the autumn sky;
The reddened clouds are writhing in the glow
Of some great fire, and there are glints below
Of tawny yellow where the embers die.
I wait, for he will show me, clear and cold,
High-rais'd in splendour, sharp against the North,
The Roman eagles, and through mists of gold
The marching legions as they issue forth:
I wait, for I would share with him again
The ancient wisdom, and the ancient pain.

Of Mr. Machen's horror-tales the most famous is perhaps The Great God Pan
(1894) which tells of a singular and terrible experiment and its
consequences. A young woman, through surgery of the brain-cells, is made
to see the vast and monstrous deity of Nature, and becomes an idiot in
consequence, dying less than a year later. Years afterward a strange,
ominous, and foreign-looking child named Helen Vaughan is placed to board
with a family in rural Wales, and haunts the woods in unaccountable
fashion. A little boy is thrown out of his mind at sight of someone or
something he spies with her, and a young girl comes to a terrible end in
similar fashion. All this mystery is strangely interwoven with the Roman
rural deities of the place, as sculptured in antique fragments. After
another lapse of years, a woman of strangely exotic beauty appears in
society, drives her husband to horror and death, causes an artist to
paint unthinkable paintings of Witches' Sabbaths, creates an epidemic of
suicide among the men of her acquaintance, and is finally discovered to
be a frequenter of the lowest dens of vice in London, where even the most
callous degenerates are shocked at her enormities. Through the clever
comparing of notes on the part of those who have had word of her at
various stages of her career, this woman is discovered to be the girl
Helen Vaughan, who is the child--by no mortal father--of the young woman
on whom the brain experiment was made. She is a daughter of hideous Pan
himself, and at the last is put to death amidst horrible transmutations
of form involving changes of sex and a descent to the most primal
manifestations of the life-principle.

But the charm of the tale is in the telling. No one could begin to
describe the cumulative suspense and ultimate horror with which every
paragraph abounds without following fully the precise order in which Mr.
Machen unfolds his gradual hints and revelations. Melodrama is undeniably
present, and coincidence is stretched to a length which appears absurd
upon analysis; but in the malign witchery of the tale as a whole these
trifles are forgotten, and the sensitive reader reaches the end with only
an appreciative shudder and a tendency to repeat the words of one of the
characters: "It is too incredible, too monstrous; such things can never
be in this quiet world.... Why, man, if such a case were possible, our
earth would be a nightmare."

Less famous and less complex in plot than The Great God Pan, but
definitely finer in atmosphere and general artistic value, is the curious
and dimly disquieting chronicle called The White People, whose central
portion purports to be the diary or notes of a little girl whose nurse
has introduced her to some of the forbidden magic and soul-blasting
traditions of the noxious witch-cult--the cult whose whispered lore was
handed down long lines of peasantry throughout Western Europe, and whose
members sometimes stole forth at night, one by one, to meet in black
woods and lonely places for the revolting orgies of the Witches' Sabbath.
Mr. Machen's narrative, a triumph of skilful selectiveness and restraint,
accumulates enormous power as it flows on in a stream of innocent
childish prattle, introducing allusions to strange "nymphs," "Dols,"
"voolas," "white, green, and scarlet ceremonies," "Aklo letters," "Chian
language," "Mao games," and the like. The rites learned by the nurse from
her witch grandmother are taught to the child by the time she is three
years old, and her artless accounts of the dangerous secret revelations
possess a lurking terror generously mixed with pathos. Evil charms well
known to anthropologists are described with juvenile naivet, and finally
there comes a winter afternoon journey into the old Welsh hills,
performed under an imaginative spell which lends to the wild scenery an
added weirdness, strangeness, and suggestion of grotesque sentience. The
details of this journey are given with marvellous vividness, and form to
the keen critic a masterpiece of fantastic writing, with almost unlimited
power in the intimation of potent hideousness and cosmic aberration. At
length the child--whose age is then thirteen--comes upon a cryptic and
banefully beautiful thing in the midst of a dark and inaccessible wood.
In the end horror overtakes her in a manner deftly prefigured by an
anecdote in the prologue, but she poisons herself in time. Like the
mother of Helen Vaughan in The Great God Pan, she has seen that frightful
deity. She is discovered dead in the dark wood beside the cryptic thing
she found; and that thing--a whitely luminous statue of Roman workmanship
about which dire medival rumours had clustered--is affrightedly hammered
into dust by the searchers.

In the episodic novel of The Three Impostors, a work whose merit as a
whole is somewhat marred by an imitation of the jaunty Stevenson manner,
occur certain tales which perhaps represent the highwater mark of
Machen's skill as a terror-weaver. Here we find in its most artistic form
a favourite weird conception of the author's; the notion that beneath the
mounds and rocks of the wild Welsh hills dwell subterraneously that squat
primitive race whose vestiges gave rise to our common folk legends of
fairies, elves, and the "little people," and whose acts are even now
responsible for certain unexplained disappearances, and occasional
substitutions of strange dark "changelings" for normal infants. This
theme receives its finest treatment in the episode entitled The Novel Of
The Black Seal; where a professor, having discovered a singular identity
between certain characters scrawled on Welsh limestone rocks and those
existing in a prehistoric black seal from Babylon, sets out on a course
of discovery which leads him to unknown and terrible things. A queer
passage in the ancient geographer Solinus, a series of mysterious
disappearances in the lonely reaches of Wales, a strange idiot son born
to a rural mother after a fright in which her inmost faculties were
shaken; all these things suggest to the professor a hideous connection
and a condition revolting to any friend and respecter of the human race.
He hires the idiot boy, who jabbers strangely at times in a repulsive
hissing voice, and is subject to odd epileptic seizures. Once, after such
a seizure in the professor's study by night, disquieting odours and
evidences of unnatural presences are found; and soon after that the
professor leaves a bulky document and goes into the weird hills with
feverish expectancy and strange terror in his heart. He never returns,
but beside a fantastic stone in the wild country are found his watch,
money, and ring, done up with catgut in a parchment bearing the same
terrible characters as those on the black Babylonish seal and the rock in
the Welsh mountains.

The bulky document explains enough to bring up the most hideous vistas.
Professor Gregg, from the massed evidence presented by the Welsh
disappearances, the rock inscription, the accounts of ancient
geographers, and the black seal, has decided that a frightful race of
dark primal beings of immemorial antiquity and wide former diffusion
still dwell beneath the hills of unfrequented Wales. Further research has
unriddled the message of the black seal, and proved that the idiot boy, a
son of some father more terrible than mankind, is the heir of monstrous
memories and possibilities. That strange night in the study the professor
invoked "the awful transmutation of the hills" by the aid of the black
seal, and aroused in the hybrid idiot the horrors of his shocking
paternity. He "saw his body swell and become distended as a bladder,
while the face blackened. . . ." And then the supreme effects of the
invocation appeared, and Professor Gregg knew the stark frenzy of cosmic
panic in its darkest form. He knew the abysmal gulfs of abnormality that
he had opened, and went forth into the wild hills prepared and resigned.
He would meet the unthinkable "Little People"--and his document ends
with a rational observation: "If unhappily I do not return from my
journey, there is no need to conjure up here a picture of the awfulness
of my fate."

Also in The Three Imposters is the Novel of the White Powder, which
approaches the absolute culmination of loathsome fright. Francis
Leicester, a young law student nervously worn out by seclusion and
overwork, has a prescription filled by an old apothecary none too careful
about the state of his drugs. The substance, it later turns out, is an
unusual salt which time and varying temperature have accidentally changed
to something very strange and terrible; nothing less, in short, than the
medival vinum sabbati, whose consumption at the horrible orgies of the
Witches' Sabbath gave rise to shocking transformations and--if
injudiciously used--to unutterable consequences. Innocently enough, the
youth regularly imbibes the powder in a glass of water after meals; and
at first seems substantially benefited. Gradually, however, his improved
spirits take the form of dissipation; he is absent from home a great
deal, and appears to have undergone a repellent psychological change. One
day an odd livid spot appears on his right hand, and he afterward returns
to his seclusion; finally keeping himself shut within his room and
admitting none of the household. The doctor calls for an interview, and
departs in a palsy of horror, saying that he can do no more in that
house. Two weeks later the patient's sister, walking outside, sees a
monstrous thing at the sickroom window; and servants report that food
left at the locked door is no longer touched. Summons at the door bring
only a sound of shuffling and a demand in a thick gurgling voice to be
let alone. At last an awful happening is reported by a shuddering
housemaid. The ceiling of the room below Leicester's is stained with a
hideous black fluid, and a pool of viscid abomination has dripped to the
bed beneath. Dr. Haberden, now persuaded to return to the house, breaks
down the young man's door and strikes again and again with an iron bar at
the blasphemous semiliving thing he finds there. It is "a dark and putrid
mass, seething with corruption and hideous rottenness, neither liquid nor
solid, but melting and changing." Burning points like eyes shine out of
its midst, and before it is dispatched it tries to lift what might have
been an arm. Soon afterward the physician, unable to endure the memory of
what he has beheld, dies at sea while bound for a new life in America.
Mr. Machen returns to the dmoniac "Little People" in The Red Hand and
The Shining Pyramid; and in The Terror, a wartime story, he treats with
very potent mystery the effect of man's modern repudiation of
spirituality on the beasts of the world, which are thus led to question
his supremacy and to unite for his extermination. Of utmost delicacy, and
passing from mere horror into true mysticism, is The Great Return, a
story of the Graal, also a product of the war period. Too well known to
need description here is the tale of The Bowmen; which, taken for
authentic narration, gave rise to the widespread legend of the "Angels of
Mons"--ghosts of the old English archers of Crecy and Agincourt who
fought in 1914 beside the hard-pressed ranks of England's glorious "Old

Less intense than Mr. Machen in delineating the extremes of stark fear,
yet infinitely more closely wedded to the idea of an unreal world
constantly pressing upon ours is the inspired and prolific Algernon
Blackwood, amidst whose voluminous and uneven work may be found some of
the finest spectral literature of this or any age. Of the quality of Mr.
Blackwood's genius there can be no dispute; for no one has even
approached the skill, seriousness, and minute fidelity with which he
records the overtones of strangeness in ordinary things and experiences,
or the preternatural insight with which he builds up detail by detail the
complete sensations and perceptions leading from reality into supernormal
life or vision. Without notable command of the poetic witchery of mere
words, he is the one absolute and unquestioned master of weird
atmosphere; and can evoke what amounts almost to a story from a simple
fragment of humourless psychological description. Above all others he
understands how fully some sensitive minds dwell forever on the
borderland of dream, and how relatively slight is the distinction betwixt
those images formed from actual objects and those excited by the play of
the imagination.

Mr. Blackwood's lesser work is marred by several defects such as ethical
didacticism, occasional insipid whimsicality, the flatness of benignant
supernaturalism, and a too free use of the trade jargon of modem
"occultism." A fault of his more serious efforts is that diffuseness and
long-windedness which results from an excessively elaborate attempt,
under the handicap of a somewhat bald and journalistic style devoid of
intrinsic magic, colour, and vitality, to visualise precise sensations
and nuances of uncanny suggestion. But in spite of all this, the major
products of Mr. Blackwood attain a genuinely classic level, and evoke as
does nothing else in literature in awed convinced sense of the imminence
of strange spiritual spheres of entities.

The well-nigh endless array of Mr. Blackwood's fiction includes both
novels and shorter tales, the latter sometimes independent and sometimes
arrayed in series. Foremost of all must be reckoned The Willows, in which
the nameless presences on a desolate Danube island are horribly felt and
recognised by a pair of idle voyagers. Here art and restraint in
narrative reach their very highest development, and an impression of
lasting poignancy is produced without a single strained passage or a
single false note. Another amazingly potent though less artistically
finished tale is The Wendigo, where we are confronted by horrible
evidences of a vast forest dmon about which North Woods lumbermen
whisper at evening. The manner in which certain footprints tell certain
unbelievable things is really a marked triumph in craftsmanship. In An
Episode in a Lodging House we behold frightful presences summoned out of
black space by a sorcerer, and The Listener tells of the awful psychic
residuum creeping about an old house where a leper died. In the volume
titled Incredible Adventures occur some of the finest tales which the
author has yet produced, leading the fancy to wild rites on nocturnal
hills, to secret and terrible aspects lurking behind stolid scenes, and
to unimaginable vaults of mystery below the sands and pyramids of Egypt;
all with a serious finesse and delicacy that convince where a cruder or
lighter treatment would merely amuse. Some of these accounts are hardly
stories at all, but rather studies in elusive impressions and
half-remembered snatches of dream. Plot is everywhere negligible, and
atmosphere reigns untrammelled.

John Silence--Physician Extraordinary is a book of five related tales,
through which a single character runs his triumphant course. Marred only
by traces of the popular and conventional detective-story atmosphere--for
Dr. Silence is one of those benevolent geniuses who employ their
remarkable powers to aid worthy fellow-men in difficulty--these
narratives contain some of the author's best work, and produce an
illusion at once emphatic and lasting. The opening tale, A Psychical
Invasion, relates what befell a sensitive author in a house once the
scene of dark deeds, and how a legion of fiends was exorcised. Ancient
Sorceries, perhaps the finest tale in the book, gives an almost
hypnotically vivid account of an old French town where once the unholy
Sabbath was kept by all the people in the form of cats. In The Nemesis of
Fire a hideous elemental is evoked by new-spilt blood, whilst Secret
Worship tells of a German school where Satanism held sway, and where long
afterward an evil aura remained. The Camp of the Dog is a werewolf tale,
but is weakened by moralisation and professional "occultism."

Too subtle, perhaps, for definite classification as horror-tales, yet
possibly more truly artistic in an absolute sense, are such delicate
phantasies as Jimbo or The Centaur. Mr. Blackwood achieves in these
novels a close and palpitant approach to the inmost substance of dream,
and works enormous havoc with the conventional barriers between reality
and imagination.

Unexcelled in the sorcery of crystalline singing prose, and supreme in
the creation of a gorgeous and languorous world of iridescently exotic
vision, is Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, Eighteenth Baron Dunsany,
whose tales and short plays form an almost unique element in our
literature. Inventor of a new mythology and weaver of surprising
folklore, Lord Dunsany stands dedicated to a strange world of fantastic
beauty, and pledged to eternal warfare against the coarseness and
ugliness of diurnal reality. His point of view is the most truly cosmic
of any held in the literature of any period. As sensitive as Poe to
dramatic values and the significance of isolated words and details, and
far better equipped rhetorically through a simple lyric style based on
the prose of the King James Bible, this author draws with tremendous
effectiveness on nearly every body of myth and legend within the circle
of European culture; producing a composite or eclectic cycle of phantasy
in which Eastern colour, Hellenic form, Teutonic sombreness and Celtic
wistfulness are so superbly blended that each sustains and supplements
the rest without sacrifice or perfect congruity and homogeneity. In most
cases Dunsany's lands are fabulous--"beyond the East," or "at the edge of
the world." His system of original personal and place names, with roots
drawn from classical, Oriental, and other sources, is a marvel of
versatile inventiveness and poetic discrimination; as one may see from
such specimens as "Argimenes," "Bethmoora," "Poltarnees," "Camorak,"
"Iluriel," or "Sardathrion."

Beauty rather than terror is the keynote of Dunsany's work. He loves the
vivid green of jade and of copper domes, and the delicate flush of sunset
on the ivory minarets of impossible dream-cities. Humour and irony, too,
are often present to impart a gentle cynicism and modify what might
otherwise possess a nave intensity. Nevertheless, as is inevitable in a
master of triumphant unreality, there are occasional touches of cosmic
fright which come well within the authentic tradition. Dunsany loves to
hint slyly and adroitly of monstrous things and incredible dooms, as one
hints in a fairy tale. In The Book of Wonder we read of Hlo-Hlo, the
gigantic spider-idol which does not always stay at home; of what the
Sphinx feared in the forest; of Slith, the thief who jumps over the edge
of the world after seeing a certain light lit and knowing who lit it; of
the anthropophagous; Gibbelins, who inhabit an evil tower and guard a
treasure; of the Gnoles, who live in the forest and from whom it is not
well to steal; of the City of Never, and the eyes that watch in the Under
Pits; and of kindred things of darkness. A Dreamer's Tales tells of the
mystery that sent forth all men from Bethmoora in the desert; of the vast
gate of Perdondaris, that was carved from a single piece of ivory; and of
the voyage of poor old Bill, whose captain cursed the crew and paid calls
on nasty-looking isles new-risen from the sea, with low thatched cottages
having evil, obscure windows.

Many of Dunsany's short plays are replete with spectral fear. In The Gods
of the Mountain seven beggars impersonate the seven green idols on a
distant hill, and enjoy ease and honour in a city of worshippers until
they hear that the real idols are missing from their wonted seats. A very
ungainly sight in the dusk is reported to them--"rock should not wall in
the evening"--and at last, as they sit awaiting the arrival of a troop
of dancers, they note that the approaching footsteps are heavier than
those of good dancers ought to be. Then things ensue, and in the end the
presumptuous blasphemers are turned to green jade statues by the very
walking statues whose sanctity they outraged. But mere plot is the very
least merit of this marvellously effective play. The incidents and
developments are those of a supreme master, so that the whole forms one
of the most important contributions of the present age not only to drama,
but to literature in general. A Night at an Inn tells of four thieves who
have stolen the emerald eye of Klesh, a monstrous Hindoo god. They lure
to their room and succeed in slaying the three priestly avengers who are
on their track, but in the night Mesh comes gropingly for his eye; and
having gained it and departed, calls each of the despoilers out into the
darkness for an unnamed punishment. In The Laughter of the Gods there is
a doomed city at the jungle's edge, and a ghostly lutanist heard only by
those about to die (cf. Alice's spectral harpsichord in Hawthorne's House
of the Seven Gables); whilst The Queen's Enemies retells the anecdote of
Herodotus in which a vengeful princess invites her foes to a subterranean
banquet and lets in the Nile to drown them. But no amount of mere
description can convey more than a fraction of Lord Dunsany's pervasive
charm. His prismatic cities and unheard of rites are touched with a
sureness which only mastery can engender, and we thrill with a sense of
actual participation in his secret mysteries. To the truly imaginative he
is a talisman and a key unlocking rich storehouses of dream and
fragmentary memory; so that we may think of him not only as a poet, but
as one who makes each reader a poet as well.

At the opposite pole of genius from Lord Dunsany, and gifted with an
almost diabolic power of calling horror by gentle steps from the midst of
prosaic daily life, is the scholarly Montague Rhodes James, Provost of
Eton College, antiquary of note, and recognized authority on medival
manuscripts and cathedral history. Dr. James, long fond of telling
spectral tales at Christmastide, has become by slow degrees a literary
weird fictionist of the very first rank; and has developed a distinctive
style and method likely to serve as models for an enduring line of

The art of Dr. James is by no means haphazard, and in the preface to one
of his collections he has formulated three very sound rules for macabre
composition. A ghost story, he believes, should have a familiar setting
in the modem period, in order to approach closely the reader's sphere of
experience. Its spectral phenomena, moreover, should be malevolent rather
than beneficent; since fear is the emotion primarily to be excited. And
finally, the technical patois of "occultism" or pseudo-science ought
carefully to be avoided; lest the charm of casual verisimilitude be
smothered in unconvincing pedantry.

Dr. James, practicing what he preaches, approaches his themes in a light
and often conversational way. Creating the illusion of every-day events,
he introduces his abnormal phenomena cautiously and gradually; relieved
at every turn by touches of homely and prosaic detail, and sometimes
spiced with a snatch or two of antiquarian scholarship. Conscious of the
dose relation between present weirdness and accumulated tradition, he
generally provides remote historical antecedents for his incidents; thus
being able to utilise very aptly his exhaustive knowledge of the past,
and his ready and convincing command of archaic diction and colouring. A
favourite scene for a James tale is some centuried cathedral, which the
author can describe with all the familiar minuteness of a specialist in
that field.

Sly humourous vignettes and bits of lifelike genre portraiture and
characterisation are often to be found in Dr. James's narratives, and
serve in his skilled hands to augment the general effect rather than to
spoil it, as the same qualities would tend to do with a lesser craftsman.
In inventing a new type of ghost, he has departed considerably from the
conventional Gothic tradition; for where the older stock ghosts were pale
and stately, and apprehended chiefly through the sense of sight, the
average James ghost is lean, dwarfish, and hairy--a sluggish, hellish
night--abomination midway betwixt beast and man--and usually touched
before it is seen. Sometimes the spectre is of still more eccentric
composition; a roll of flannel with spidery eyes, or an invisible entity
which moulds itself in bedding and shows a face of crumpled linen. Dr.
James has, it is clear, an intelligent and scientific knowledge of human
nerves and feelings; and knows just how to apportion statement, imagery,
and subtle suggestions in order to secure the best results with his
readers. He is an artist in incident and arrangement rather than in
atmosphere, and reaches the emotions more often through the intellect
than directly. This method, of course, with its occasional absences of
sharp climax, has its drawbacks as well as its advantages; and many will
miss the thorough atmospheric tension which writers like Machen are
careful to build up with words and scenes. But only a few of the tales
are open to the charge of tameness. Generally the laconic unfolding of
abnormal events in adroit order is amply sufficient to produce the
desired effect of cumulative horror.

The short stories of Dr. James are contained in four small collections,
entitled respectively Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, More Ghost Stories
of an Antiquary, A Thin Ghost and Others, and A Warning to the Curious.
There is also a delightful juvenile phantasy, The Five Jars, which has
its spectral adumbrations. Amidst this wealth of material it is hard to
select a favourite or especially typical tale, though each reader will no
doubt have such preferences as his temperament may determine.

Count Magnus is assuredly one of the best, forming as it does a veritable
Golconda of suspense and suggestion. Mr. Wraxall is an English traveller
of the middle nineteenth century, sojourning in Sweden to secure material
for a book. Becoming interested in the ancient family of De La Gardie,
near the village of Raback, he studies its records; and finds particular
fascination in the builder of the existing Manor-house, one Count Magnus,
of whom strange and terrible things are whispered. The Count, who
flourished early in the seventeenth century, was a stern landlord, and
famous for his severity toward poachers and delinquent tenants. His cruel
punishments were bywords, and there were dark rumours of influences which
even survived his interment in the great mausoleum he built near the
church--as in the case of the two peasants who hunted on his preserves
one night a century after his death. There were hideous screams in the
woods, and near the tomb of Count Magnus an unnatural laugh and the clang
of a great door. Next morning the priest found the two men; one a maniac,
and the other dead, with the flesh of his face sucked from the bones.

Mr. Wraxall hears all these tales, and stumbles on more guarded
references to a Black Pilgrimage once taken by the Count, a pilgrimage to
Chorazin in Palestine, one of the cities denounced by Our Lord in the
Scriptures, and in which old priests say that Antichrist is to be born.
No one dares to hint just what that Black Pilgrimage was, or what strange
being or thing the Count brought back as a companion. Meanwhile Mr.
Wraxall is increasingly anxious to explore the mausoleum of Count Magnus,
and finally secures permission to do so, in the company of a deacon. He
finds several monuments and three copper sarcophagi, one of which is the
Count's. Round the edge of this latter are several bands of engraved
scenes, including a singular and hideous delineation of a pursuit--the
pursuit of a frantic man through a forest by a squat muffled figure with
a devil-fish's tentacle, directed by a tall cloaked man on a neighbouring
hillock. The sarcophagus has three massive steel padlocks, one of which
is lying open on the floor, reminding the traveller of a metallic clash
he heard the day before when passing the mausoleum and wishing idly that
he might see Count Magnus.

His fascination augmented, and the key being accessible, Mr. Wraxall pays
the mausoleum a second and solitary visit and finds another padlock
unfastened. The next day, his last in Raback, he again goes alone to bid
the long-dead Count farewell. Once more queerly impelled to utter a
whimsical wish for a meeting with the buried nobleman, he now sees to his
disquiet that only one of the padlocks remains on the great sarcophagus.
Even as he looks, that last lock drops noisily to the floor, and there
comes a sound as of creaking hinges. Then the monstrous lid appears very
slowly to rise, and Mr. Wraxall flees in panic fear without refastening
the door of the mausoleum.

During his return to England the traveller feels a curious uneasiness
about his fellow-passengers on the canal-boat which he employs for the
earlier stages. Cloaked figures make him nervous, and he has a sense of
being watched and followed. Of twenty-eight persons whom he counts, only
twenty-six appear at meals; and the missing two are always a tall cloaked
man and a shorter muffled figure. Completing his water travel at Harwich,
Mr. Wraxall takes frankly to flight in a closed carriage, but sees two
cloaked figures at a crossroad. Finally he lodges at a small house in a
village and spends the time making frantic notes. On the second morning
he is found dead, and during the inquest seven jurors faint at sight of
the body. The house where he stayed is never again inhabited, and upon
its demolition half a century later his manuscript is discovered in a
forgotten cupboard.

In The Treasure of Abbot Thomas a British antiquary unriddles a cipher on
some Renaissance painted windows, and thereby discovers a centuried hoard
of gold in a niche halfway down a well in the courtyard of a German
abbey. But the crafty depositor had set a guardian over that treasure,
and something in the black well twines its arms around the searcher's
neck in such a manner that the quest is abandoned, and a clergyman sent
for. Each night after that the discoverer feels a stealthy presence and
detects a horrible odour of mould outside the door of his hotel room,
till finally the clergyman makes a daylight replacement of the stone at
the mouth of the treasure-vault in the well--out of which something had
come in the dark to avenge the disturbing of old Abbot Thomas's gold. As
he completes his work the cleric observes a curious toad-like carving on
the ancient well-head, with the Latin motto "Depositum custodi--keep that
which is committed to thee."

Other notable James tales are The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral, in
which a grotesque carving comes curiously to life to avenge the secret
and subtle murder of an old Dean by his ambitious successor: Oh, Whistle,
and I'll Come to You, which tells of the horror summoned by a strange
metal whistle found in a medivel church ruin; and An Episode of
Cathedral History, where the dismantling of a pulpit uncovers an archaic
tomb whose lurking daemon spreads panic and pestilence. Dr. James, for
all his light touch, evokes fright and hideousness in their most shocking
form, and will certainly stand as one of the few really creative masters
in his darksome province.

For those who relish speculation regarding the future, the tale of
supernatural horror provides an interesting field. Combated by a mounting
wave of plodding realism, cynical flippancy, and sophisticated
disillusionment, it is yet encouraged by a parallel tide of growing
mysticism, as developed both through the fatigued reaction of
"occultists" and religious fundamentalists against materialistic
discovery and through the stimulation of wonder and fancy by such
enlarged vistas and broken barriers as modern science has given us with
its intra-atomic chemistry, advancing astrophysics, doctrines of
relativity, and probings into biology and human thought. At the present
moment the favouring forces would appear to have somewhat of an
advantage; since there is unquestionably more cordiality shown toward
weird writings than when, thirty years ago, the best of Arthur Machen's
work fell on the stony ground of the smart and cocksure 'nineties.
Ambrose Bierce, almost unknown in his own time, has now reached something
like general recognition.

Startling mutations, however, are not to be looked for in either
direction. In any case an approximate balance of tendencies will continue
to exist; and while we may justly expect a further subtilisation of
technique, we have no reason to think that the general position of the
spectral in literature will be altered. It is a narrow though essential
branch of human expression, and will chiefly appeal as always to a
limited audience with keen special sensibilities. Whatever universal
masterpiece of tomorrow may be wrought from phantasm or terror will owe
its acceptance rather to a supreme workmanship than to a sympathetic
theme. Yet who shall declare the dark theme a positive handicap? Radiant
with beauty, the Cup of the Ptolemies was carven of onyx.


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