Notes on The Astrologer of the Nineteenth Century

A literary sleuthing case with an unexpected payoff.

UPDATE 3/21/21: The Ex-Classics Website recently put up a version of The Necromancer, directly from the original sources, with footnotes. Check it out!

In 1983, in his authoritative reference The Guide to Supernatural Fiction, Everett Bleiler identified “The Astrologer of the Nineteenth Century,” from Tales of Terror/Evening Tales for the Winter as the first part of The Necromancer, a work best known today for being one of the seven “horrid novels” that Jane Austen mentions in Northanger Abbey.

The Necromancer; or the Tale of the Black Forest is a 1794 translation by one Peter Teuthold [1], of Der Geisterbanner: Eine Wundergeschichte aus mündlichen und schriftlichen Traditionen gesammelt (The Spectral Banner: A Wondrous Tale Collected from Oral and Written Traditions), a novel written by Karl Friedrich Kahlert under the name Lorenz Flammenberg, and published in 1792.

So far, so good. But here’s where it gets interesting. A comparison of The Necromancer to “The Astrologer” shows the two plots are basically the same–but the texts are different. Moreover, the names have changed: the two principal characters in The Necromancer are Herrman and Hellfried; in “The Astrologer” they are Herrman and Cronheim. Other details differ, as well.

It’s known that Teuthold took liberties in his translation, going so far as to lift a story from Friedrich Schiller and insert it into The Necromancer [2]. Could “The Astrologer” be from an alternative translation of Der Geisterbanner? Or is it a plagiarism of Teuthold’s work? The latter seemed most likely, and I assume it’s what Bleiler believed, but I wanted to find out.

Raphael, the Metropolitan Astrologer

Cut to the chase: I found the text from Tales of Terror and Evening Tales for the Winter in the 1825 astrological volume The Astrologer Of The Nineteenth Century, allegedly authored “By the Members of the Mercurii; Raphael, The Metropolitan Astrologer; The Editor of the Prophetic Almanack; and Other Sidereal Artists of First-Rate Eminence.”

It turns out this tome is a compilation of the issues of the failed 1824 periodical The Struggling Astrologer, edited by the English astrologer Robert Cross Smith, the first of many astrologers who wrote under the name Raphael.

“The Necromancer” is the first story in “Circle the First” of Smith’s tome; I assume this first Circle was the first issue of The Struggling Astrologer. A quick glance through Circle the First shows that it’s mainly comprised of supernatural-themed writings appropriated from other periodicals (more on that in a different article). So I didn’t believe that Smith had retranslated Der Geisterbanner, or even that he’d plagiarized Teuthold himself. More searching was required.

A Series of Wonderful Events, Founded on Fact

After a couple of false starts, I found what I think is the original text–with attribution!

The Necromancer
Comprising A Series of Wonderful Events,
Founded on Fact,
Translated from a New German Work, purposely for this Magazine,
By T. Dutton, Esq.

T. Dutton’s translation was serialized in The Conjuror’s Magazine, which became The Astrologer’s Magazine and Philosphical Miscellany partway through the run of the story, from June-November 1793, the year before Teuthold’s translation came out!!

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty exciting. A quick internet search didn’t turn up any obvious evidence that anyone is aware of a translation of Der Geisterbanner other than Teuthold’s, let alone an earlier one. Or if someone does know, they don’t care, since T. Dutton only translated the first part of the novel. But it’s still a cool bit of literary trivia, and to me adds even greater interest to the version in Evening Tales for the Winter.

You can find the June and July 1793 issues of Conjuror’s Magazine here, and the August through November 1793 issues of Astrologer’s Magazine here. Note that the scan of the September issue misses the first page of that installment; you can find a better copy of that issue at the Hathi Trust. If you just want to read the story, though, it’s easiest to go directly to The Astrologer Of The Nineteenth Century at the Internet Archive (the Evening Tales for the Winter scan is pretty dirty).

Some other points:

As I mentioned, some details differ between Dutton’s and Teuthold’s versions. In addition to the name changes, in Teuthold’s version Hellfried loses his deceased mother’s picture (and she later comes back as a ghost). In Dutton’s version, the picture and ghost are of Cronheim’s friend Eliza. I think there are other differences as well, and since I haven’t read Kahlert’s original, I can’t say which translation (if either) is more accurate.

I’m guessing that Dutton changed Hellfried’s name because it sounded too “sweary” to an Anglophone reader. Montague Summers did something similar when he “Englishified” Teuthold’s text in his 1927 edition, changing Hellfried to Elfrid.

The version Robert Cross Smith published is slightly altered from the text in The Conjuror’s/Astrologer’s Magazine, at least at the end (I haven’t done a page by page comparison); he also dropped the attribution. But given that Smith was an astrologer, it’s likely he was familiar with the earlier periodical, and so it’s reasonable to assume that he appropriated the story directly from there, amending it on the way.

There is also a somewhat condensed and unattributed version of Dutton’s translation in the women’s periodical The Matrimonial Magazine, starting in the June, 1793 issue (page 190). Since that’s simultaneous with the publication in The Conjuror’s Magazine, I assume Dutton was double-dipping. The link above includes the June and July installments (the editors seemed impressed by the story); unfortunately the remaining installments don’t seem to be online.

The version in Tales of Terror/Evening Tales for the Winter not only has an incorrect name for the story, but also a different intro. This probably indicates that editor Henry St. Clair got his version from a source that appropriated it from Robert Cross Smith. But I’m not going to bother tracking that down.

This is a bit longer than my usual story notes, and I’m not done yet! Next post, I plan to take a little side excursion and track down the sources of the pieces in Circle the First of Robert Cross Smith’s The Astrologer of the Nineteenth Century.

[1] In 2007, Valancourt Books re-published the original version of The Necromancer. In the preface to this edition, James Jenkins established that Peter Teuthold is a pseudonym for Peter Will, a German expatriate who moved to London, and who translated a number of German works. In fact, Will also translated Carl Grosses’s Der Genius as Horrid Mysteries—one of the other seven “horrid novels”!

[2] Apparently, Kahlert liked this addition so much he retranslated it into German and inserted it into the next edition of Der Geisterbanner.

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