Saturday, September 29, 2012

A haunting masterpiece: the Steinfeld glass

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I was in London this week for an author visit to Chigwell School, and I managed to squeeze in a very quick visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum afterwards, to see the Steinfeld Abbey stained glass. I have seen it before, at the Schnütgen Museum in Cologne in 2007, where it formed part of a fabulous exhibition entitled Rheinische Glasmalerei: Meisterwerke der Renaissance (Rhenish Stained Glass: Masterpieces of the Renaissance). All the same, I couldn't resist taking the opportunity to see it again. I have a special affection for the Steinfeld glass; its history is so fascinating, and it has touched those who have been associated with it in an extraordinary way. The famous English ghost story writer M.R.James was inspired by it to write his chilling tale The Treasure of Abbot Thomas.

I've blogged about the glass before, for example in this post from May 2010: - its history was a major inspiration for my second novel, The Glass Demon.

I've also written several articles about it for the M.R.James Ghosts and Scholars Newsletter. You can see one of them here: The other article, 'Lingering Memories of the Treasure': How the lost stained glass of Steinfeld was discovered, was published in issue 13 of the Newsletter (March 2008) and it has never appeared online. I intend to post it on my blog in the near future.

I wasn't sure until yesterday afternoon whether I would actually have time to visit the museum. The school visit was in Essex, a long journey to the eastern end of the Central Line. My train back to Edinburgh departed from King's Cross so the V&A down in South Kensington was definitely out of my way. However, I did manage to get there, although I only had about 45 minutes in the museum. It was years since my last visit (I've been abroad for most of the last decade, after all) and I was unable to work out where the glass was from the wall plans in the entrance hall, so I had to go and ask for help at the information desk.
"Is the Steinfeld glass on display?" I asked the young man on the desk.
He looked at me rather blankly. "How do you spell that?"
He looked at his computer. "Would that be in Mediaeval and Renaissance?"
"Yes," I said, and was instantly rather embarrassed at the sound of breathless excitement in my voice. Is there such a thing as a Stained Glass Geek? I think I have become one.
"Room 64, upstairs on the first floor."
I went upstairs but the layout was rather confusing; did he mean the first landing or the floor at the top of the stairs? Whilst I was debating this, a friendly security guard came out and asked me whether he could help. I explained that I was looking for room 64 because I wanted to see the Steinfeld stained glass. He very kindly directed me to it, adding, "If you go downstairs afterwards there is a room full of stained glass."
He was so friendly that I didn't like to say that it wasn't just any stained glass I was after, it was just one particular set of stained glass! Finally I found room 64 and there it was.

There were only a few windows on display. One or two others are in other rooms in the museum; most are in storage at the moment. As luck would have it, one of the windows on display is the one depicting the Fall of the Angels (in German, Engelsturz) which has a particular significance for me. In The Glass Demon, the heroine Lin describes a window from the fictional Allerheiligen Abbey, that depicts this same scene:

'I looked at the panel he was indicating; it was the one showing the Fall of the Angels. The upper part of the window was crowded with a throng of white-robed winged figures wielding swords and spears, descending out of skies the colour of Ceylon sapphires. Below them were the rebel angels, grotesquely ugly horned and winged creatures whose skin was tinted the crimson of blood or the green of decay. They tumbled down through empty space towards a bleak landscape of rock and fire far below, twisting and turning as they fell, jaws bared to reveal rows of jagged teeth snarling uselessly at their pursuers. Only one had his face turned outwards, as though staring out of the window directly at the observer. The expression on the red-tinted face was sly and complacent, even challenging, and painted with such detail that I could understand the rumours that Remsich had taken his figures from the life.'

The fictional window is based on the Steinfeld window of this subject, which you can see below, even down to the red demon with his calm complacent face staring out at the observer.

It is hard for me to express the extent of my fascination with the Steinfeld glass. Each time I have seen it, in 2007 and again yesterday, I have felt overwhelmed. Its history is so dramatic as to be almost improbable - lost for over a century, and rediscovered by someone who is himself famous for the ghost stories he wrote, in one of which the glass features.

More than that, since I became interested in the Steinfeld glass I have taken a general interest in stained glass of the period, and soon realised how little of it there is left, thanks to the church-wreckers of the Reformation. It really is a very rare treasure.

I'm also curious about the man who created much of it - Gerhard Remsich (sometimes rendered Remisch). In all my researches into the Steinfeld glass (much of it conducted amongst old German documents) I have never been able to discover anything about Gerhard Remsich the man and artist. All that we can know about him is painted into the glass: the dynamic compositions, the vivid colours, the meticulous brush strokes. Some faint echo of personality is evident in the energy and flair with which he depicted the ancient and well-worn Bible stories.

I took as many photographs as I could, and have posted some of them below. Photography was not permitted at the exhibition in the Schnütgen museum, so this is the first time I have had any photographs of my own to share, rather than posting links to other people's.

Finally I had to take my leave, hoping that this time it won't be another five years before I see the glass again. If there is CCTV in room 64, it may have caught sight of the lady in the leather jacket glancing around to make sure there was no-one else in the room, then blowing a kiss at the glass before hurrying away. 

This week, the only way was Essex...

This week I had a rare treat: I went down to London - my birthplace! - for a school visit. I suppose that if Scotland becomes independent this will eventually count as "abroad." Certainly it felt like "abroad." It has been so cold in Perthshire recently that I have been writing my novel whilst wrapped in a sleeping bag. When I mentioned this to someone recently they told me that I shouldn't be surprised because Scotland is on the same latitude as Moscow. I have no idea whether this is true or not, but if it isn't, it jolly well ought to be.
In London, however, it was hot. Actually hot. I took off the two jackets I had piled on in Perthshire and did my best to soak up enough rays to last me until next spring.
The school visit was to Chigwell School in Essex, which meant a journey far further out on the eastern end of the Central line than I have ever been before. The school had arranged accommodation for me on the premises, and before I went down there I had been joking to my friends that I hoped it wouldn't be in the girls' dorm. Well, I had one of those imagine-my-surprise moments when it turned out that I really was sleeping in a dorm! Thankfully it wasn't full of pillow-fighting midnight-feast-eating schoolgirls; it was actually a former dorm, now no longer occupied by the students. It was in a very large, very old building which in common with many old houses has its share of unidentifiable creaks and groans. If this was not eerie enough, my friend the professor texted me to tell me that my goddaughter (her daughter) wished to remind me of the scene in The Devil's Backbone where the ghost of a boy appears to his schoolfellows in a boarding school. Thanks very much, Alex! I texted back to tell her mother to tell her that if I died of fright she need not expect to be remembered in my will...
The sessions with the students the next morning were great - a fantastically attentive audience and some very interesting questions. I used to talk a lot about the inspiration behind specific books, but as it is a bit much to expect everyone to have read all my books, I now tend to talk more about where I get my ideas. My first three books were very much inspired by the places and things I saw around me, but when we moved away from Germany I found myself in a new and unfamiliar environment and I started actually looking for creepy and sinister places as inspiration for future books. I went up church bell-towers and down sewers and catacombs. The photographs from the catacombs always go down well; there is pretty nearly always an audible gasp from someone when the slide of the skulls comes up! Afterwards I had time to answer questions and then sign copies of my books.
A very big thank you to Paul Fletcher, the Senior school Librarian at Chigwell, for organising the visit, and to all the students who listened so attentively and asked so many great questions. My favourite was whether I ever have an idea for a new book when I am halfway through writing one, and what do I do in that case? The answer is, yes, I do get ideas for future books whilst I am already working on other ones, and it nearly sends me distracted because I want to write all of them at once! I wish there were more hours in the week!
One final thing: during my talk I mentioned the Steinfeld Abbey stained glass, which inspired my second book, The Glass Demon. I had it in mind that if time permitted before I took my train back to Edinburgh I would go to the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington to see the Steinfeld glass, and I'm pleased to say that I did have time for a very quick 45-minute visit to the museum. I've seen the glass before, when it was on display in the Schnütgen Museum in Cologne in 2007, but I couldn't resist going to see it again. I'm going to blog about it later, but in the meantime: if you want to see (some of) the Steinfeld glass, it's in room 64 of the V&A, amongst the Mediaeval and Renaissance artefacts.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

"The scum of the World": pirates in the 17th century.

This morning I visited Innerpeffray Library again, and in honour of International Talk Like A Pirate Day, which is today (19th September), I decided to find something pirate-related for my blog. Innerpeffray Librarian Lara Haggerty entered into the spirit of the day, and after telling me what must have been one of the worst pirate jokes ever, she found me A Collection of Voyages and Travels in Four Volumes, printed in 1704. It is a collection of works by various authors but the chapter about piracy occurs in Volume 2, as part of the True Travels, Adventures and Observations of Captain John Smith (1580-1631) - the very same John Smith who met Pocahontas!
I've transcribed the chapter exactly as it appears in the book - so there are some curious spellings and free use of capital letters and italics! Interestingly, the writer is not unsympathetic to the reasons why men became involved in piracy - often poverty or the fact that they had not been paid wages they were due. He concludes by encouraging merchants and shop owners to pay fairly and seamen themselves to consider reputation and prospects and therefore avoid piracy. 

Here is the chapter:

The true Travels, Adventures, and Observations of Captain JOHN SMITH.


The bad Life, Qualities and Conditions of Pirates; and how they taught the Turks and Moors to become men of Warr.

As in all lands where there are many People, there are some Thieves, so in all Seas much frequented, there are some Pirates; the most Ancient within the Memory of threescore Years, was one Callis, who most refreshed himself on the Coast of Wales; Clinton and Purser his Companions, who grew famous till Queen Elizabeth of Blessed Memory, hanged them at Wapping; Flemming was as expert and as much sought for as they, yet such a Friend to his Country, that discovering the Spanish Armada, he voluntarily came to Plimouth, yielded himself freely to my Lord Admiral, and gave him notice of the Spaniards coming; which good warning came so happily and unexpectedly, that he had his Pardon, and a good Reward; some few Pirates there then remained; notwithstanding it is incredible how many great and rich Prizes the little Barques of the West Country daily brought home, in regard of their small Charge; for there are so many difficulties in a great Navy, by Wind and Weather, Victual, Sickness, losing and finding one another, they seldom defray half the charge: But for the Grace, State and Defence of the Coast and narrow Seas, a great Navy is most necessary, but not to Attempt any far Voyage, except there be such a Competent stock, they want not wherewith to furnish and supply all things with expedition; but to the purpose.
After the death of our most Gracious Queen Elizabeth of Blessed Memory; our Royal King James, who from his Infancy had Reigned in Peace with all Nations; had no imployment for those Men of Warr, so that those that were Rich rested with what they had; those that were poor and had nothing but from hand to Mouth, turned Pirates; some, because they became slighted of those for whom they had got much Wealth; some for that they could not get their Due; some that had lively bravely, would not abase themselves to Poverty; some vainly, only to get a name; others for Revenge, Covetousness, or as ill; and as they found themselves more and more oppressed, their Passions increasing with discontent, made them turn Pirates.
Now because the grew hatefull to all Christian Princes, they retired to Barbary, where altho’ there be not many good Harbours, but Tunis, Argier, Sally, Mamora, and Tituane, there are many convenient Rodes, or the open Sea, which is their chief Lordship: for their best Harbours Massalqueber, the Towns of Oran, Mellila, Tangier, and Ceuta, within the Streights, are possessed by the Spaniards; without the Streights they have also Arzella, and Mazagan; Mamora they have likewise lately taken, and Fortified. Ward a poor English Sailer, and Dansker a Dutchman, made first here their Marts, when the Moors knew scarce how to sail a Ship; Bishop was Ancient and did little hurt; but Easton got so much as made himself a Marquess in Savoy; and Ward lived like a Bashay in Barbary; those were the first that taught the Moors to be Men of War. Gennings, Harris, Tompson, and divers others were taken in Ireland, a Coast they much frequented, and died at Wapping. Haws, Bough, Walsingham, Ellis, Collins, Sawkwel, Wollingstone, Barrow, Wilson, Sayres, and divers others, all these were Captains amongst the Pirates, whom King James Mercifully Pardon’d; and was it no strange, a few of those should command the Seas. Notwithstanding the Malteses, the Pope, Florentines, Genoeses, French, Dutch and English, Gallies and Men of War, they would rob before their Faces, and even at their own Ports, yet seldom more than three, four, five or six in a Fleet: many times they had very good Ships, and well Man’d, but commonly in such Factions amongst themselves, and so Riotous, Quarrellous, Treacherous, Blasphemous and Villanous, it is more than a wonder they could so long continue, to do so much Mischief; and all they got, they barely consumed it amongst Jews, Turks, Moors and Whores.
The best was, they would seldom go to Sea, so long as they could possibly live on shoar, being compiled of English, French, Dutch and Moors, (but very few Spaniards or Italians) commonly running one from another, until they became so disjointed, disordered, debauched, and miserable, that the Turks and Moors began to command them as Slaves, and force them to instruct them in their best skill, which many an accursed Runnagado, or Christian turned Turk did, till they have made those Sally-men or Moors of Barbary  so Powerful as they be, to the Terror of all the Streights, and many times they take Purchase in the Main Ocean, an, yea sometimes in the narrow Seas in England, and those are the most cruel Villains in Turky or Barbary; whose Natives are very Noble, and of good Natures, in comparison of them.
To conclude, The Misery of a Pirate, (altho’ many are sufficient Seamen as any) yet in regard of his superfluity, you shall find it such, that any wise Man would rather live amongst wild Beasts, than them; therefore let all  unadvised Persons take heed they entertain that quality; and I could how wish Merchants, Gentlemen, and all Setters forth of Ships, not to be sparing of a Competent Pay, nor true Payment; for neither Soldiers nor Seamen can live without Means, but necessity will force them to steal; and when they are once entred into that Trade, they are hardly reclaimed. Those Titles of Seamen and Soldiers, have been most worthily honoured and esteemed, but now regarded for the most part, but as the scum of the World; regain therefore your wonted Reputations and endeavour rather to Adventure to those fair Plantations of our English Nation; which however in the beginning were scorned contemned, yet now you see how many Rich and Gallant People come from thence, who went thither as Poor as any Soldier or Sailer, and gets more in one Year, than you by Piracy in seven. I intreat you therefore to consider how many Thousands yearly go thither; also how many Ships and Sailers are imployed to Transport them, and what Custom they Yearly pay to our most Royal King Charles, whose Prosperity and his Kingdom’s good, I humbly beseech the Immortal God to preserve and increase.

...and finally, here is a picture of a lady pirate from M&D's theme park in Glasgow (above)! Still capturing the imagination.  

Sunday, September 16, 2012

No excuses not to visit: it's FREE for 2 days

 I admit it, I'm alway going on about Innerpeffray Library. It's one of my absolutely favourite places in Scotland, a 250 year old building containing books dating back to 1502, next door to an ancient church with a leper squint. What's not to like?
If you're within travelling distance of Innerpeffray (it's near Crieff, in Perthshire, Scotland) but have never visited, now's your chance. You can even get in FREE if you go next weekend (22nd and 23rd September) because the library is taking part in Perth and Kinross Doors Open Days. You can read about it here: The Library will be open 10am-5pm on Saturday and 2-4pm on Sunday. One thing to remember: you can't handle books on these open days. There will be more visitors than usual so it isn't practical. If you have to get your hands on them, visit another time! There will however be introductory talks (see the above link for times) and plenty of gorgeous old books on display for you to drool over. Well, not literally drool. It's inadvisable to get 500 year old books damp...

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A demon lover, a mermaid bride and a monstrous baby!

Here are the latest excerpts from the Treatise of Specters, which I copied out this afternoon. These are from the section entitled An History of Strange Apparitions, and cunning delusions of Devils. I'm really excited about these stories: they're dramatic, gruesome and weird - judging by the content, sex and violence in the media is nothing new!

The first one is from De Praestigiis Daemonum et Incantationibus ac Veneficiis (On the Illusions of the Demons and on Spells and Poisons) of Johann Weyer (1515-1588) and gives new meaning to the expression "horse-faced"...

34. Hieronymus in his lives of the Fathers, tells of a certain Monk, who was enticed to most foul and lustfull embraces by a Devill in the shape of a most amiable Woman, who, when to propagate their lust, she bended forward her members towards him; seemed like a Mare or Mule, or some bruit creature. And when he endeavoured to accomplish carnall copulation, she making an ugly howling noise, like a spirit as she was, and a Phantasm, vanish’t from between his hands as he embraced her, and left him (wretched man!) miserably deluded. Vierus l. 2. C. 46. De Praestigiis Daemonum.

This next tale is attributed to Vincentius, who I think must be Vincentius of Beauvais, a thirteenth century Dominican friar who wrote the Speculum Maius, an encyclopaedia which included a history of the world up to his time. This story is about a mermaid. 

35. It is storied by Vincentius in the third Book of his Histories, that there was in Sicily under the King Rogerius, a young man of good courage, and very skilfull in swimming, who about twilight in a Moon-shine evening was washing himself in the Sea, and a woman swimming after him caught him by the hair, as if it had been some of his fellowes that intended to drown him. He spake to her, but could not get a word from her; whereupon he took her under his cloak, and brought her home, and afterward married her. On a time one of his fellows upbraiding him, told him he had hugg’d a phantasm; he being horribly affrighted, drew his sword, and threatened his Wife, that he would murder his son which he had by her, if she would not speak, and make her originall known. Alas poor wretch, saith she, thou undoest a commodious wife, in forcing me to speak; I should have continued with thee, and should have been beneficiall to thee, if thou hadst let me alone with my commanded silence. But now thou shalt never see me more. And immediately she vanished. But the Child grew up, and much frequented the Sea. In fine, on a certain day, this phantasm meeting him in those waters, carried him away in the presence of many people.

To finish, here is a gruesome story from Hector Boece's History of the Scottish People (1527)! 

36. In a Country called Marra, there was a very gallant and handsome young Lady, that had refused many in marriage, and most wickedly kept company with an evil spirit, by the Greeks termed Cacodaemon, who being with child by him, and by her Parents severity constrained to tell the father of it; answered, that she knew not where she was, that a very fair young man did oftentimes meet her by night, and sometimes by day. Her parents, though giving small credence to their daughter, yet earnestly desiring to know the truth, who it was that had perswaded and enticed their daughter to this lewdnesse, within three dayes after, the damosel having given them notice thereof, that he which ravish’d her, was with her; having therefore unlock’d the doors, and set up a great light, coming into the Chamber they saw an ugly foul Monster of such a fearfull hue, as no man can believe, in their daughters arms. Very many that were sent for, came in all haste to this unseemly object; Among whom, a Priest of an approved life, and well disciplined, all the rest being scared away, and amaz’d, when repeating the beginning of St. John’s Gospel, he came to that place, The Word was made Flesh, the evil Genius with a horrible outcry goes away, carrying the roof of the house away with him, and set all the furniture on fire. The woman being preserved from peril, was 3. dayes after brought to bed of a most deformed Monster, such as no man (as they say) ever saw; which the Midwives, to prevent the infamy and disgrace of that family, heaping up a great pile of wood, did instantly burn to ashes. Hector Boethus libr.8 hist. Scotorum.

Merlin and Macbeth!

Since I last posted about Innerpeffray Library and  some of the thrilling old books it has, I have been absolutely dying to go back there and transcribe some more excerpts from the Treatise of Specters of 1658. Next weekend the library has "open days" (I'll post about that separately later) which means that owing to the high number of visitors it will not be possible to handle the books. I thought therefore that I had better try to pop over there this weekend instead and spend a bit more time on the Treatise - otherwise it could be a while before I manage to visit the library. It closes for the winter at the end of October so the more visits I can manage before then, the better! I drove over to Innerpeffray this afternoon and spent an hour there.

The library is a wonderful working environment - warm and quiet and well-lit. The problematical side of working there is that there are so many fabulous old books that it is very difficult indeed not to get sidetracked. Librarian Lara Haggerty nearly derailed my plans for the Treatise by showing me a fascinating old book about different countries of the world - it described the German court as full of men dressed in black leather, which I must say sounded very suave! I resolved to get my hands on that book at some future point and perhaps share some of the best passages on this blog - then I wrenched my attention away from it and back to the Treatise of Specters!

As I think I mentioned in a previous post, the Treatise is a kind of anthology of creepy and supernatural stories collected by Thomas Bromhall. The copy at Innerpeffray was printed in 1658. The book is divided into different sections, and today I copied out excerpts from An History of Strange Apparitions, and cunning delusions of Devils and An History of Strange Prophecies, and Predictions of Devils. 

When I transcribe passages from the book, I keep the archaic spellings (which are often quite inconsistent - the same word can be spelled in two different ways in the same paragraph), use of upper case letters and italics. The only things I can't reproduce are the archaic letters! The original version has what looks like an "f" for any "s" that occurs in the middle of a word, and very occasionally I have come across what looks like the German letter ß (a double "s"). I have put those letters into normal type to avoid confusion.

Here are the two tales from the History of Strange Prophecies, and Predictions of Devils. (I will post the others shortly.) I chose these particular excerpts because they feature characters most of us are familiar with - Merlin and Macbeth! The story about Merlin is from the works of Hector Boece (1465-1536), a Scottish academic and philosopher. The Macbeth story is from Hieronymus Cardanus (1501-1576),  an Italian scientist.

From An History of Strange Prophecies, and Predictions of Devils.

122. Hector Boethus in the Scottish affairs saith, it was a common report, that Merline was begotten by the copulation of a spirit called Incubus, and a Brittish woman of a Noble bloud, of whom Vincent. In 21. book History 30. thus telleth. King Vortiger, counsell being taken what he ought to do for defence of himself, commanded cunning workmen to be called unto him, who should build a most strong Tower. But when as the Earth swallowed up their works, they perswaded the King, that he should search out a man without a father, with whose bloud the stones and morter might be sprinkled, as if by that means the morter would be made firm. Therefore the young man Merline by name, was found, who with his Mother is brought before the King, who confesseth he was conceived by a spirit in Mans shape. This Merline revealed many dark things, and foretold things to come. For he opened that under the foundation there was a lake, under the Lake two Dragons lay hid, whereof one being red, did signify the people of the Brittains, but the other being white, of the Saxons; and he also prophesied, that Aurelius Ambrose, Hengist being overcome, and Vortiger burnt, should reign. of the Delusions of Devills.

176. Machabaeus King of the Scots, fearing Macduffus, being admonished by Soothsayers, was told by a woman a Fortune-teller, that he should not fall by the hands of any man that was born of a woman, and that he could not be overcome before the wood Bernen were carried to the Castle Donusinna, which was a great way distant. Therefore he falsly thought himself invincible, and free from strategems and deceits of his enemies, having cut down the wood Bernen, and carried every stick to the Castle; wherewith he compassed the Castle the day before he was overcome: to be short, he was slain by Macduffus, who was not born, but cut out of his Mothers belly. Cardanus de rerum varietate.Lib.16.cap.93.

...I particularly like the latinised names in the story from Cardanus. "Macduffus" is splendid! 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Edging nearer to publication day!

I've spent most of this week carefully going through the proofs of Silent Saturday, the first book in my upcoming Forbidden Spaces trilogy, set in Flanders. Proof reading is not my favourite job - it reminds me of flossing teeth: tedious, but it has to be done with meticulous care! It also reminds me somewhat of a corny joke I came across once in an old book: "What does your mother look for but hope she won't find? - A hole in your stocking." (Evidently it was a VERY old book - I can't imagine many mothers searching for holes to darn these days, myself included!) Proof reading means looking for mistakes you hope you won't find. I'm glad to say there weren't very many!
I'm absolutely dying to see bound proofs of the book.
Silent Saturday will be published in the UK in April 2013.
Meanwhile, I shall be getting back to work on the second book of the trilogy, The Demons of Ghent, which is, unsurprisingly, set in Ghent! I visited the city last December for research and brought back lots of interesting material including a charming booklet entitled Museum of Torture Instruments - Gravensteen. I'm intending to have the first draft done before Christmas - apart from anything else, there are some pretty horrible trials ahead of my heroine Veerle, and I shall enjoy Christmas with a clearer conscience if she is through them all by then!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

You can't escape destiny, says Olaus.

Here's another tale from the Treatise of Specters, the last one for now. I shall transcribe more of them when I can get to Innerpeffray Library again! 

This story is from a section entitled An History of strange Prophecies, and Predictions of Devils. It's a variation on the old theme of not being able to escape your destiny, which goes back at least as far as Greek legends (eg. Oedipus). 

139. In Northern Gothia two tombs are seen, being huge Stones in the place of way-marks or Crosses, having the bodyes of two brethren laid in them, unto whom it had been foretold by a soothsayer, in their first youth it should come to passe that they should die by mutuall wounds given. To decline the destiny, they undertook a travell unto the farthest, and most contrary parts of the World. In their utmost old age, at length returning into their countrey, when as any one hoped his brother to have long since died, not far from the Town Jonacum, they met one another unknown, and Salutation being on both sides given and received, they rested under the next pine-tree. By and by their Dogs wrangling, they also broke forth, first to quarrellings, then to mutuall wounds, and drawing out their Soul, and acknowledging themselves to be brethren, they dyed in mutuall embraces. Olaus, in his first book of Northern Customes, ch. 37.

NB "Olaus" is Olaus Magnus, a sixteenth century Swedish writer. 

A sixteenth century zombie!

Here is another weird tale from Bromhall's Treatise of Specters, this time from the 16th century German writer Philip Melanchthon. This one describes a zombie - a corpse animated by magic! She doesn't seem to be a cannibal zombie though, since she doesn't eat any meat...

296. Philip Melanchthon reports, that he was told by Christopher Gross and Sigismund Galenius, that a certain Virgin of Bononia, that was conversant amongst men two years after her death, and who was at a Banquet whereunto she was invited, not tasting any meat, and sitting amongst other Virgins, by chance a Magitian present knowing the fraud of the Devil, saith to them that were present; This pale Maid hath been dead, and coming straight to her, taketh from under her right shoulder, an inchantment, whereupon she appeared an ugly dead corps. This inchantment had been performed by another Magitian, and thereby the Devil had carried about this corps all this while.

A spectral black hound!

In the previous post I explained that I am hoping to post online some of the best (ok, the most gruesome or weird) bits from Bromhall's Treatise of Specters. So here's a nice one to kick off with, from the section enticingly entitled A History of Strange Apparitions, and cunning delusions of Devils.

122. Crescentius, the Popes Nuncio in the Councell of Trent, in the year 1552, the 25. day of March, was very busy in writing Letters to the Pope, and continued his employment till night. Then arising to refresh himself, lo, he saw a black Dog, of such a bignesse as was not usuall, fiery eyes, and his ears hanging down to the ground coming in, and directly towards him he came, and at last he fell down underneath the Table. Being stupified and amazed hereat, when he came to himself, he calls to his servants, that were in a chamber hard by, he bids them bring a light, and to search out the Dog. And when he could in no place be found, he took a sad conceit, and falling in to a disease, he died. Dying also, they say he cryed out to his servant, to beat away the Dog that came up to his bed. Sleidanus lib. 23

(Sleidanus, from whose work this story was taken, was a 16th century German historian.)

I like this entry because although the story is briefly told, the final detail of the dying man still seeing the ghostly dog haunting his bedside is very nasty! It reminds me a little of the passage in M.R.James' Count Magnus in which two men have met a horrible fate whilst poaching on the Count's land; one is found dead and of the other it is reported that: Hans Thorbjorn was standing with his back against a tree, and all the time he was pushing with his hands--pushing something away from him which was not there. So he was not dead. And they led him away, and took him to the house at Nykjoping, and he died before the winter; but he went on pushing with his hands. 

More from the Treatise of Specters (brrrr!)

I recently posted an entry from the Treatise of Specters at Innerpeffray Library, Scotland's oldest lending library. This book, printed in 1658, is a fascinating collection of supernatural anecdotes gathered from all sorts of different sources and collected in one volume by Thomas Bromhall. So far I have not been able to find an online text for this book so I thought I would make a project of transcribing some of the more interesting entries and posting them on my blog. It would probably take me years to transcribe the entire book (especially since I would have to work on it during Innerpeffray Library's opening hours) so I thought I would start with anything that struck me as particularly entertaining and see how I get on after that! I'd be very grateful for any feedback about which types of entry are most interesting and whether anyone wants to see more on a particular theme (the main ones are prophecies, the ways in which demons influence people, and witches!). I shall start with the title and introduction to the book.
                                                     Above: photograph of the frontispiece.

The full text of the title page reads as follows:

Treatise of Specters
With Dreams,
Prophecies, and
Cunning Delusions of the
DEVIL, to strengthen the Idolatory of
The GENTILES, and the Worshipping of Saints departed;
With the Doctrine of Purgatory.

A Work very seasonable, for discovering
the Impostures and Religious Cheats of these Times.

Collected out of sundry Authours of great Credit; And
delivered into English from their several Originals,
By T.B.

Whereunto is annexed,
A Learned TREATISE, confuting the
Opinions of the SADDUCES and EPICURES, (denying the
appearing of Angels and Devils to Men) with the Arguments
of those that deny that Angels and Devils can
assume Bodily shapes,
Written in FRENCH, And now rendred into ENGLISH,
With a Table to the whole Work.

Printed by John Streater, dwelling in Well-Yard, near the Hospital
of S. Bartholomews the Lesse, 1658.

NB I have copied the exact spelling, which differs from modern spelling sometimes. I love the 17th century use of capital letters and italics for emphasis! This title page is followed by an introductory letter by Thomas Bromhall to Lord Cholmley as his patron. Here is what it says:

Lord Cholmley, Lord Viscount Kell, & c.

My Lord,
I should in the first place (if possible) anticipate your wonder; when these rude Lines shall plainly salute you, Defender and Protector of their Innocencie: Since I, who have thus preposterously run them, am not so happy as to be known to Your Honour. I shall therefore humbly take leave to declare the grounds of this my presumption (for I dare not call it otherwise, unlesse by your permission). The first is, your unbounded Goodnesse, to which I am relatively obliged, and much acquainted by the frequent commemorations of my nearest Relation, whose Father had the happiness to live and die under the benevolent influence of Your honourable Service; And, by the Information of those whole expressions proceed from the dictates of their own Experience, find, That where You have once obliged any by Your incomparable benignity, Your favours flowed down infinitely to all Relations. The next is, The Worthiness of those Learned Authours, by whose Care and Industry these Examples were left for the use of future Ages: whose Ashes might justly rise up against me, if (being so unworthy to mention, much less to collect their Labours myself) I should not commend them to the Patronage of one most Noble and Ingenious: Nor do I conceive it the lightest consideration, That Your Lordship being acquainted with these Collections in their severall Originals, must necessarily (for the communicative quality inherent in all truly noble and generous dispositions) wish they were accommodated to the apprehensions of inferiour capacities.
I shall not trouble Your Honour with what Motives I had for exposing this work to publick View; Since these so much Saducean and Socinian Times, most loudly, proclaim an eminent necessity of utmost endeavours in this particular: And since it is the duty of all men, to study rather the Publick, than their own private, advantage.
This being a Stranger, needs the more Encouragement. Besides, being usher’d into this our English World by so unworthy a hand, must consequently participate of the weakness of my endeavours: But however defective, or exposed to injury, Your acceptance will abundantly supply, and your Patronage secure, it from the imputation or prejudice of any Momus,
Should I further question that invincible Courtesie which I hear every where extoll’d, I might thereby aggravate, instead of extenuating, my Presumption. Therefore I shall cease to trouble You further, but with this one request, That You will favourably interpret my boldness in subscribing myself,
My Lord,
Your Honours most humbly
devoted Servant,
Thomas Bromhall.

NB "Momus" is the personification of mockery or satire in Greek mythology, in case anyone was wondering! Again, I have reproduced the spelling and punctuation of the original text (Bromhall seems to have been inordinately fond of colons...). The letter is a very flowery way of saying that he hopes Lord Cholmley's support will help make his book a success and encourage people to receive it positively. It is probably one of the driest bits of the book so now that we have that behind us I'll post some of the spectral tales next! 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Celebrating Crieff: a skull, a book and a bottle of ginger beer

Today was officially a Work Day and as I have 55,000 words to write before Christmas I wouldn't normally skive off. However, the electrician was visiting today, installing a new fuse box to replace the old one, which was so ancient that were a fuse to blow we would have to mend it with wire. I don't find it very easy to work with someone in the house, so I decided to go and investigate the CELEBRATE CRIEFF exhibition which is on from 1st to 14th September. CELEBRATE CRIEFF is not just an exhibition - there is also a programme of events including a "Ghost Walk" which promises to be suitably blood-curdling. The exhibition itself includes local crafts and produce, a historical timeline and some very interesting curios.
This wasn't just idle sightseeing (cough). I am currently working on a trilogy set in Flanders (the first book, Silent Saturday, is coming out in the UK in April 2013) so I spend most of my working time thinking about Flanders or indeed "visiting" it via Google Street View. Somewhere down the line, though, the last book of the trilogy will have been completed and I shall be thinking about settings for new projects. With this in mind, I like to investigate local history and explore atmospheric locations such as old churches and castles, storing up inspiration for the future.
Here are some pics from the exhibition! I particularly like the ginger beer bottles.

Above: I never knew there used to be a "Crieff Aerated Water Company"!

Above: a book about witchcraft and demonology rests 
incongruously between two innocent-looking bookends! 

Above: according to this display, Crieff is laid out according to ley lines, 
with the parish church right at the centre! 

Above: part of a display about witchcraft. Several "witches" were burnt locally. I have previously blogged about the Dunning witch whose memorial stands on the road outside that village. 

If you are within travelling distance of Crieff you can find out about the exhibition and events on the CELEBRATE CRIEFF Facebook page here: