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Michael Bell
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Posted By Michael Bell

I come across the most interesting things when I’m searching old newspapers, such as the article that was published in the London Post in 1904 entitled “The Common Vampire.” It was written by Andrew Lang (1844-1912), the Scottish poet, novelist, literary critic and historian. Folklorists, however, know him best as a collector of folktales (or fairy tales, if you must) and a scholar of mythology, ritual and religion. His Post article is fascinating because it provides a British take on the New England vampire tradition. Here’s the first installment:

Mr. Bram Stoker lately added to the gayety of nations by a romance about vampires named “Dracula.” Vampires, these scourges of nature, were represented as having made great strides in culture. They had large balances at their banks, and one vampire employed two firms of family soliciters. They extended their sphere of influence from the Carpathians to Hampstead Heath, and a delicate question arose, I think, as to the extradition of criminous vampires. In childhood, in consequence of information received from somebody who ought to have known better, I took an anxious interest in vampires. They were clearly a bad class of ghosts, for ghosts seldom bite, and when they do the bite is not infectious. The vampire’s virus, on the other hand, is infectious; by preference he or she attacks his nearest and dearest, who, in turn, become vampires, so that whole neighborhoods are worse than decimated, Dom Calmet records in the case of some Hungarian districts.These were agitating facts, but on inquiry I could only find one case of vampirism in our islands, that of a monk of Melrose. The epidemic was stamped out by vigorous measures, though in our days of immigrant pauper aliens our medical authorities cannot be too careful.

I have but lately learned, however, that though the vampire was so scarce even in medieval England, he is still common in New England, as in Rhode Island and Connecticut. Mr. George R. Stetson, in the American Anthroplogist (1896) gives some gruesome information about the American variety of the species. “In New England the body is exhumed, the heart burned, and the ashes scattered.” The towns of Exeter, Foster, East Greenwich, and others are the center and focus of the malady. Here agriculture is notably depressed. “It is the tramping ground of the book agent, the chromo peddler” (whoever he may be), “the patent medicine man, and the home of the erotic and neurotic modern novel.”

Thus the region, except as regards farm produce, seems to be highly cultivated, intellectually, “and suggest the almost criminal neglect of the conservators of public education to give instruction to our farming youth in a more scientific and more practical agriculture.” But when education has enabled the farmer to take delight in neurotic novels and to peruse “Sir Richard Calmady,” what more can be asked? Indeed, one does not see that neurotic novels, so far, encourage a belief in vampirism, which some rather look on as a survival from a medieval belief never popular in Old England, though William of Malmesbury, a learned critic, does touch on the subject philosophically. The first case given in an unnamed village, let us call it Berlinopolis-super-Mare, in the neighborhood of Newport.

 
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