Notes on Peter Rugg, the Missing Man

Peter Rugg, the Missing Man” first appeared in The New England Galaxy on September 10, 1824. This “cursed traveller” tale, about a man doomed to ride forever in search of his home in Boston, evidently caused quite an impression on readers. Like the Angels of Mons or the so-called Legend of the Three Crowns of East Anglia, Peter Rugg crossed over from fiction into the status of “authentic” regional legend.

…as I stood recently on the door-step of Bennett’s hotel in Hartford, [I] heard a man say, “There goes Peter Rugg and his child! He looks wet and weary, and farther from Boston than ever.”

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The Legend of Old Spital Inn

One of the pieces that Vincent Price reads on his 1974 spooky tales album, A Graveyard of Ghost Tales, is a story called “The Ghostly Hand of Spital House,” by Dorothy Gladys Spicer. This is a fun and engaging tale about some bandits who try to rob an inn with the help of a hand of glory : a candle (or candle-holder) made from the hand of a hanged man. Lighting the hand of glory puts all the sleeping occupants of the house into an even deeper sleep, from which they don’t awaken until the hand is extinguished. You can see how this would be a (cough) handy tool for robbers and catburglars to have.

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Side Excursion: The Struggling Astrologer, Issue One

In my previous post, I tracked down the origin of the story called “The Astrologer of the Nineteenth Century” in Henry St. Clair’s anthology Tales of Terror/Evening Tales for the Winter. That search led me to St. Clair’s source: a story entitled “The Necromancer” in the first section of the 1825 astrological tome The Astrologer of the Nineteenth Century. This first section was likely the first issue of a failed periodical called The Struggling Astrologer (1824), edited by English astrologer Robert Cross Smith.

As I mentioned in that last post, this first issue of The Struggling Astrologer is made up mostly of pieces that appear to be lifted from other literary and occult sources. This makes it rather like one of those Caedmon Records of spooky readings by Vincent Price. So of course, I had to track them down. And here they are! Try imagining Vincent Price’s eerie voice as you read them.

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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 m√ľndlichen 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.

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Wrapping up Volume One!

I’ll finish up my posts on Volume One of Evening Tales for the Winter with a brief discussion of the remaining three stories.

The Cavern of Death” is a longer novella in the gothic style, set (of course) in the depths of the Black Forest. It starts out well enough, with a handsome young couple in love, an interfering father, intrigue, family skeletons, and the mysterious dark cavern of the title. I confess that I gave up about midway through. Full-blown gothic isn’t one of my preferred genres, and this got a little too gothic for me.

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Notes on The Mysterious Bell

The Mysterious Bell” is a short, enigmatic tale that feels like the beginning of an unfinished story, but I like it. It reminds me a bit of the spooky sea tales of William Hope Hodgson, or of the Belgian writer Jean Ray. It also has hints of what could be science fiction elements.

It came careering over the waters with a rapid motion, and as it drew near, exhibited to our wondering gaze a single black mast, rising from the centre of what seemed a square and solid block of wood, but without yard or sail, nor did any living creature appear upon it.

Science fiction or ghost story or both — it is not only intriguing for the mystery within the narrative, but as a literary sleuthing puzzle, too.

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Notes on The Boarwolf

The Boarwolf” is a great story, and also a bit of a puzzle. Everett Bleiler attributed this early tale of lycanthropy (and porcanthropy?) to Johann August Apel, in the Tales of Terror entry of his 1983 Guide to Supernatural Fiction (p. 441). This attribution persists; it’s repeated in the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. And the 1997 Encyclopedia of Fantasy not only attributes the story to Apel, it further claims a publication date of 1812.


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Notes on Der Freischutz

I thought this post would be straightforward, but then I dug too deep.

Der Freischutz” (aka “The Fatal Marksman”) is yet again a deal-with-the-devil tale. It’s based on the German folktale of a hunter who receives a handful of magic bullets that are guaranteed to hit whatever he aims at. All except one bullet, which the devil controls.

For once, the version in Evening Tales for the Winter credits the original story: it’s from Johann August Apel, and the German original comes from Volume one of the Gestpensterbuch (Ghost Book), first published in 1810. The uncredited translator is Thomas de Quincey, as can be verified in this 1908 bibliography.

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Notes on The Nikkur Holl

The Nikkur Holl” is a delightful yarn, full of allusions to folklore and cultural details of fishing village life in the Shetland Isles, supernatural dealings, and ghostly visitations. It comes from the first volume of Tales of a Voyager to the Artic Ocean (1826), by Scottish writer Robert Pearse Gillies. Gillies was a noted translator and critic of German literature of the period, as well as a friend of Walter Scott and James Hogg.

Tales of a Voyager to the Artic Ocean purports to be the memoirs of a former traveler on a Greenland whaler; this conceit is a framing structure around stories told by the various crewmembers of the ship. You can see the traces of this structure in a brief conversation between the characters Captain Shafton and Shipley, early in the narrative.

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Notes on the Gored Huntsman

I think of “The Gored Huntsman” as a gothic fairytale. It’s the story of a German huntsman who gets lost in the forest, and comes upon a mysterious dwelling. Within this dwelling is a beautiful but somewhat sinister woman who permits him to shelter there for the night. There are aspects of the story that remind me of the myth of Diana/Artemis and Actaeon, though it isn’t a direct retelling.

“The Gored Huntsman” was originally published in The Keepsake for 1828, published November 1827. This was the first issue of a literary annual that ran from 1828 to 1857, and was made up of original fiction, poetry, essays and engraved illustrations. The Keepsake came out every year around Christmas, perfect for use as a gift-book.

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