Tag Archives: antiquarian

Collected Ghost Stories of M.R. James

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Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936), Biblical scholar, antiquary and mediaeval historian is also, quite possibly, the twentieth century’s most influential writer of ghost stories. His tales of leisured Edwardian gentleman-academics whose narrow-minded investigations bring them into contact with nameless horrors from the past are flat-out classics of the genre and their reputation was enhanced by several highly-regarded BBC television adaptations in the 1970s – adaptations that echoed the stories’ original conception as tales to raise a chill around the Christmas fire.

And yet, James never intended to publish his stories in book form. Despite having submitted his first two compositions, ‘Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook’ and ‘Lost Hearts’ for publication in journals during the 1890s, his stories were by and large written solely for the entertainment of his academic colleagues and students. On Christmas Eve, James would emerge from his study clutching his hand-written manuscript, ready to address the acquaintances who had gathered in his rooms to hear this latest tale of terror read aloud over their late-night tipple. It was only with the death of a close friend, whom James had invited to illustrate the tales as a distraction from a final illness, that the tales gained a wider audience. James McBryde, the promising artist in question, died at a tragically young age and James decided to publish a selection of the ghost stories complete with McBryde’s illustrations as a posthumous tribute to his young friend. The stories were very well-received, however, and although James’s academic achievements hardly went unrecognised, it is for his ghost stories that he is best remembered today.

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converted PNM file whistlemcbryde

Five volumes of James’s ghost stories were published during his lifetime: Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904), More Ghost Stories (1911), A Thin Ghost and Others (1919), A Warning to the Curious and Other Ghost Stories (1925) and Collected Ghost Stories (1931) – the latter contained the entire contents of the previous four volumes, together with a few further pieces: ‘There Was a Man Dwelt By a Churchyard’, ‘Rats’, ‘After Dark in the Playing Fields’, ‘Wailing Well’ and ‘Stories I Have Tried to Write’. A further three completed stories remained uncollected during James’s lifetime: ‘The Experiment’, ‘The Malice of Inanimate Objects’ and ‘A Vignette’. I have included all of these in the edition for this blog (see below) along with a selection of James’s writings on the ghost story genre. I got the latter from the always splendid ebooks@adelaide.

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A number of unpublished drafts were also left extant on James’s death. These haven’t been included in the ebook below for copyright reasons, but you can read them at the Ghosts & Scholars website – Rosemary Pardoe’s outstanding online resource for all things Jamesian. The drafts are ‘The Game of Bear’, ‘Merfield House’, ‘The Fenstanton Witch’, ‘Marcilly-le-Hayer’ and ‘John Humphreys’ (an early version of ‘Mr Humphreys and His Inheritance’). Rosemary Pardoe’s notes on these stories are also available. Three other related pieces by James have not been included, but can also be read online. These are the early story, ‘A Night in King’s College Chapel’, James’s scholarly article, ‘Twelve Medieval Ghost Stories’ and his children’s novel The Five Jars (1920).

Here are the download links for the ebook edition of Collected Ghost Stories I’ve prepared for this blog:

Collected Ghost Stories [Kindle]

Collected Ghost Stories [Epub]

Collected Ghost Stories [PDF]

Finally, readers might be interested to know that, in collaboration with Jane Mainley-Piddock and James Mussell, I am currently organising the first ever academic conference dedicated solely to James’s ghost stories. Information, including a call for papers, is available here.

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Black Spirits and White (1895) by Ralph Adams Cram

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

H.P. Lovecraft

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Ralph Adams Cram (1863-1942) was a noted architect of collegiate and ecclesiastical buildings. Born in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire in December 1863, Cram was apprenticed to the architects Rotch and Tilden in Boston, before moving to Rome to study classical architecture. In 1887, he converted to Roman Catholicism. He designed or co-designed the Cathedral of St John the Divine and Saint Thomas Church (both in New York city) but is probably best known as the architect of Princeton University, a major example of his passion for the Gothic Revival in architecture.

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Appropriately, given his penchant for the Gothic in architecture, Cram’s only major foray into fiction is the highly regarded collection of horror stories, Black Spirits and White (1895), whose name derives from Macbeth Act IV, Scene i. Of particular note is the final story in the collection, ‘The Dead Valley’, whose memorable climax was singled out by H.P. Lovecraft as a favourite moment in the history of supernatural fiction.

Black Spirits and White [Kindle]

Black Spirits and White [Epub]

Black Spirits and White [PDF]

Uncollected Stories by Sabine Baring-Gould

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Here’s a treat, if I do say so myself. Six stories by Sabine Baring Gould, most of which first appeared in the periodical Hurst Johnian. The stories were well-nigh unobtainable for many years (even the British Library doesn’t have copies of these particular issues of the journal) until they were reprinted by Sarob Press in 1999 as part of Margery of Quether and other weird stories. This volume too is now out of print, but Richard Morgan of Sarob Press has very kindly consented to my preparing an ebook of the otherwise uncollected stories in that volume. This means that all of Baring-Gould’s known supernatural fiction is now available on this blog – to view more titles by him, click here.

EDIT: As it turns out, there is at least one more uncollected Baring-Gould story, ‘The Witch-Finder’, which I’ll add to the ebook when I get a chance!

Uncollected Stories [Kindle]

Uncollected Stories [Epub]

Uncollected Stories [PDF]

The rather unfortunately named Brown Willey, which features in the story 'Crowdy Marsh'

The rather unfortunately named Brown Willey, which features in the story ‘Crowdy Marsh’

A quick note on the texts:

I’ve scanned most of the stories from the Scarob Press edition, which uses the texts of the original periodical publications. In the case of ‘The Fireman’ and ‘The Old Woman of Wessel’, I’ve used the texts available on Wikisource. As far as I can tell, this version of ‘The Old Woman of Wessel’ is the text of the original periodical publication – but the text of ‘The Fireman’ seems to be from a later American reprint of the story, which may be pirated from Baring-Gould’s original. There are only minor differences, however, none of which materially affect the meaning or significance of the text.

The Romance of a Demon (1892) by Thomas Malyn

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This short novel was published in 1892 by the London firm of Digby, Long and Co. Apparently written as an attempt to discredit Theosophy, Buddhism and other esoteric religions, it tells the entertaining story of Duncan Derroll and his discovery of the occult practices that have brought disaster upon the family of his beloved Carrie Rimmon.

I stumbled across this book at the British Library last year. It’s extremely rare, being only viewable as an electronic scan even at the BL itself. I’ve transcribed the present text manually from the print on demand version issued by the British Library (I’ve checked with the library’s permissions department and apparently this doesn’t breach any copyright rules).

I’ve also made limited enquiries about the author, Thomas Malyn. Assuming this isn’t a pseudonym, The Romance of a Demon appears to have been Malyn’s only published work. I’ve identified two possible ‘Thomas Malyns’ who may be the author. One was a Chemist Manager based in Caerphilly and the other was a schoolteacher from Essex. The latter seems the most likely candidate, so here’s all I’ve discovered about Thomas Malyn. He was born in Essex c.1848, but spent some years lodging with Henry Browson and his wife at Legbourne in Lincolnshire, whilst working as a schoolteacher. By 1891, his occupation is given as ‘certificated schoolmaster’ and he has returned to Essex (residing at Braintree). He also entered the Freemasons in 1871, but appears to have left by the mid-1880s. By 1911, he had become a Headmaster, but I haven’t been able to find out which school/s he taught at. He appears to have married twice, once to Jane and, in 1893, to Margaret. He died in 1937.

Then again, the writer may well have been an obscure Chemist Manager from Caerphilly. Who can say? If anyone knows anything about the mysterious ‘Thomas Malyn’, I’d absolutely LOVE to hear from you!

The Romance of a Demon [Kindle]

The Romance of a Demon [Epub]

The Romance of a Demon [PDF]

John Long (1864-1935), whose firm, Digby, Long and Co., published the novel.

John Long (1864-1935), whose firm, Digby, Long and Co., published the novel.

The Lancashire Witches (1848) by William Harrison Ainsworth

Witches 7William Harrison Ainsworth’s fictionalised account of the Pendle Witch trials, which occurred in his native Lancashire during the 16th century, adds a number of overtly supernatural elements. As a result, the novel had a significant impact on the traditional appearance of the witch in the popular imagination, including the trademark black clothes and pointed hat.

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The novel is based on Thomas Potts’s The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster (1603), an edition of which had recently been edited by Ainsworth’s friend, the antiquary James Crossley. Crossley’s edition of Potts’s book is available to download here.

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The illustrations on this page are by John Gilbert.

The Lancashire Witches [Kindle]

The Lancashire Witches [Epub]

The Lancashire Witches [PDF]

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A Sheaf of Yule Log Stories (1888) by Rev. A. D. Crake

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Published in 1888, this is a collection of children’s stories, mostly on a supernatural theme, ‘edited’ by the Rev. A.D. Crake, Chaplain of All Saints’ C of E School, Bloxham and later Vicar of St Peter’s, Havenstreet, Isle of White. In a framing narrative, the author recalls a happy childhood Christmas with his extended family in the English Lakes region. Every evening, the older members of the company would entertain the younger with a suitably exciting or creepy tale as they gathered around the Christmas fire. As this description might suggest, the tales, although often supernatural, are very tame as horror stories. At the same time, however, the narrator’s nostalgic sense of time and place is charming and, on occasion, moving, making the volume a quaint and entertaining read for the festive period. 

Dolmen in the snow  *oil on canvas  *61 x 80 cm  *1807

This is probably the last update before January 2014 – so a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

A Sheaf of Yule Log Stories [Kindle]

A Sheaf of Yule Log Stories [Epub]

A Sheaf of Yule Log Stories [PDF]

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The Castle and the Abbey – A Christmas Tale (1846)

Back Entrance of Caldicot Castle, South Wales, engraved by J. Greig published 1811 by Edward Dayes 1763-1804

This little-known Gothic novel was published anonymously at Maidstone in 1846 by J.V. Hall and Son (presumably for the Christmas market). A curious mixture of the Gothic narratives of Ann Radcliffe and the ‘silver fork’ novels so popular in the 1840s, it tells the story of a persecuted heroine whose happy marriage to the handsome young heir of Beaulieu Abbey is threatened by the appearance of the terrible spectre of the Black Monk. Meanwhile, her companion and childhood friend, Cecilia Herbert, has to deal with the sufferings of her mad half-sister. Eventually, the supernatural elements of the novel are rationalised in Radcliffian fashion – but not before a sensational family secret has been revealed.

The Castle and the Abbey [Kindle]

The Castle and the Abbey [Epub]

The Castle and the Abbey [PDF]

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