Tales of the Dead  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Tales of the Dead was an English anthology of horror fiction, abridged from the French book Fantasmagoriana and translated anonymously by Sarah Elizabeth Utterson, who also added one story of her own. It was published in 1813 by White, Cochrane and Co..



Sarah Elizabeth Utterson nee Brown (1781–1851), wife of literary antiquary, collector and editor Edward Vernon Utterson (c. 1776–1856), translated the majority of Tales of the Dead from a French collection of ghost stories as "the amusement of an idle hour". Three of the stories from the French she omitted as they "did not appear equally interesting" to her. She also noted she had "considerably curtailed" her translation of "L'Amour Muet", "as it contained much matter relative to the loves of the hero and heroine, which in a compilation of this kind appeared rather misplaced". To these, Utterson added a story of her own, "The Storm" based on an incident told to her by "a female friend of very deserved literary celebrity" as having actually occurred. It was published anonymously in 1813 by White, Cochrane, and Co., replacing the original epigraph "Falsis terroribus implet. — HORAT" (meaning roughly "he fills [his breast] with imagined terrors") with the following quote from William Shakespeare's The Tempest:

Graves, at my command,
Have waked their sleepers; oped, and let them forth
By my so potent art.

The French book Utterson translated from was Fantasmagoriana; ou Recueil d'Histoires, d'Apparitions, de Spectres, Revenans, Fantomes, etc., traduit de l'allemand, par un amateur (its title is derived from Étienne-Gaspard Robert's Phantasmagoria), which had in turn been translated anonymously by Jean-Baptiste Benoît Eyriès (1767–1846) from a number of German ghost stories, and published in Paris during 1812. His sources included "Stumme Liebe" ("Silent Love") from Volksmärchen der Deutschen by Johann Karl August Musäus (1735–1787), "Der grau Stube" ("The Grey Room") by Heinrich Clauren (1771–1854), and six stories by Johann August Apel (1771–1816) and Friedrich Laun (1770–1849), five of which were from the first two volumes of their ghost story anthology Das Gespensterbuch ("The Ghost Book"); originally published in five volumes by G. J. Göschen in Leipzig between 1811 and 1815 under the pen names A. Apel and F. Laun.

Fantasmagoriana has a significant place in the history of English literature. In the summer of 1816 Lord Byron and John William Polidori were staying at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva and were visited by Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and Claire Clairmont. Kept indoors by the "incessant rain" of that "wet, ungenial summer", over three days in June the five turned to reading fantastical stories, including Fantasmagoriana (in the French edition), and then devising their own tales. Mary Shelley produced what would become Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus and Polidori was inspired by a fragmentary story of Byron's to produce The Vampyre, the progenitor of the romantic vampire genre. Some parts of Frankenstein are surprisingly similar to those found in Fantasmagoriana and suggest a direct influence upon Mary Shelley's writing.

Though Tales of the Dead was published anonymously, Utterson became known to be the translator by 1820. The Uttersons' copy was bound in blue straight-grain Morocco leather with gilt edges, inserted with a print by Samuel William Reynolds of a portrait of her by Alfred Edward Chalon and six original water colour drawings. It was sold with the library of Frederick Clarke of Wimbledon in 1904 to B. F. Stevens for £3 3s, acquired into the library of Robert Hoe III by 1905 and eventually passed into the Huntington Library.

The stories

Tales of the Dead Fantasmagoriana German title German source Author
"The Family Portraits" "Portraits de Famille" "Die Bilder der Ahnen" Cicaden, vol. 1 Apel
"The Fated Hour" "L'Heure Fatale" "Die Verwandtschaft mit der Geisterwelt" Das Gespensterbuch, vol. 1 Laun
"The Death's Head" "La Tête de Mort" "Der Todtenkopf" Das Gespensterbuch, vol. 2 Laun
"The Death-Bride" "La Morte Fiancée" "Die Todtenbraut" Das Gespensterbuch, vol. 2 Laun
"The Storm" N/A N/A N/A Utterson
"The Spectre-Barber" "L'Amour Muet" "Stumme Liebe" Volksmärchen der Deutschen, vol. 4 Musäus
N/A "Le Revenant" "Der Geist des Verstorbenen" Das Gespensterbuch, vol. 1 Laun
N/A "La Chambre Grise" "Die graue Stube (Eine buchstäblich wahre Geschichte)" Der Freimüthige (newspaper) Clauren
N/A "La Chambre Noire" "Die schwarze Kammer. Anekdote" Das Gespensterbuch, vol. 2 Apel

The Family Portraits

Count Ferdinand Meltheim, a member of the German nobility whose father has just died, is on his way to the carnival to meet Clotilde Hainthal for the first time, the woman his mother wishes him to marry. He stops at a village for the night, and is drawn to a house from which he hears the sound of music, where he joins the company in telling ghost stories. A young woman (who, it is later revealed, is actually Clotilde) tells of a friend called Juliana (Ferdinand's sister, and the fiancée of his college companion), who was killed by a portrait that had terrified her as a child, which fell on her as she showed her fiancée around their house on the day before their marriage.

Ferdinand then tells a story about a friend (in fact himself) who stayed with a college companion and his family during a holiday, and got to know his young twin brothers and sister. The twins were scared by a deathlike portrait of their distant ancestor and founder of their family, called Ditmar, while Emily, the sister, was the only one who felt pity rather than revulsion for him. On the day before the friends were about to leave, the father, Count Wartbourg, hosted a series of amusements for them, and Emily encouraged Ferdinand to return in the autumn; he walked the twins to their room, but couldn't sleep, and after looking out of his window restlessly came to Ditmar's portrait, which terrified him to return to his chamber. Looking out of the window again, he saw a fog coming from the ruined tower in the grounds, in which he made out the form of Ditmar moving silently into the castle. As he checked the bed to make sure the boys were asleep, the ghost appeared at the side of the bed, and kissed the children, making Ferdinand pass out. He mentioned the night's events at breakfast to his host, who, grief-stricken but not surprised, announced that his sons would then die, but refused to explain it to even their brother. Three days after leaving, word reached Ferdinand that they had died, and their father died sometime after, without revealing the secret.

Reminded of Emily by Clotilde, he tries to find out her name, and the next day returns to ask the pastor, in whose house he had spent the previous evening. He is told the description matches Clotilde Hainthal, but is also informed that his college friend, the Count Wartbourg, had died after having the ruined tower pulled down, despite an ancient tradition that the family would survive only as long as the tower stood. Inside the tower, his friend had found a skeleton in female clothing, which he recognised as being the woman in the portrait that had killed Juliana, his betrothed; he passed out on the spot, and died soon after. Ferdinand was also told that Emily was now living with relatives in a castle nearby, and he decides to visit her there. On meeting Emily again, Ferdinand was surprised it was not the young lady he had met the day before, though she and her father arrive, and are introduced as Clotilde and Baron Hainthal. The Baron had been friends with the old Count Wartbourg, and had married his sister, privately told Ferdinand that if the male line of Wartbourg became extinct, as it had, everything would go to Ferdinand, as the direct descendant of Adalbert Meltheim. Shocked that it would not go to Emily, he raised it with her, saying he would pass it on to her rather than allow it to go to her next of kin, and they both declared their love for each other. Ferdinand's mother, however, would not consent to their marriage, as she had promised her late husband that Ferdinand must marry Clotilde; Baron Hainthal asked her to join them at the reading of Ditmar's will, when all would be explained.

Ditmar had accompanied the Holy Roman Emperor Otho to Italy, where he found and became engaged to Bertha of Pavia. However, his rival Bruno Hainthal demanded her of the Emperor as his wife, who had promised Bruno anything in his power. Ditmar was imprisoned for refusing to give her up, until the day of the wedding, when he relented in exchange for the tower he was imprisoned in and a new castle, and he plotted his revenge, building secret passages between the tower, his castle and that of Bruno. Once it was built, he killed Bruno and Bertha's son by kissing him with poison, but spared their daughter; Bruno remarried and divorced Bertha, who became a nun, but fled to the tower to confess her fault of marrying Bruno, and died there. Ditmar, finding her dead, went and attacked Bruno, and left him in the tower to starve. Ditmar was given Bruno's lands, and brought up his daughter with Bertha, who went on to marry Adalbert Meltheim. However, Bertha's ghost appeared to her, and said that she could never rest until one of her female descendants was killed by her (which was fulfilled by the death of Juliana Meltheim) after which the families of Ditmar and Bruno would be united by love. Ditmar was cursed too, and his portrait, painted by Tutilon of the Abbey of Saint Gall, was changed each night to be deathlike. Ditmar explained what he had done, and was absolved, but would remain as a ghost and would administer the kiss of death to every male descendant but one in each generation, until the tower fell down.

As Ferdinand was a descendant of Bruno and Bertha, and Emily was a descendant of Ditmar, Ferdinand's mother was happy to agree to their marriage. When they had their first child, they all decided that he should be called Ditmar, and the ghostly portrait of his namesake at last faded away.

The Fated Hour

The Death's Head

The Death-Bride

The Storm

The Spectre-Barber

The Spectre-Barber is an translation of a work by Johann Karl August Musäus originally published in German under the title "Stumme Liebe" (Dumb Love) in 1786. English translations were made in 1813 (as The Spectre-Barber) and "Dumb Love" by Thomas Carlyle.


The Sprectre-Barber is introduced as "a tale of the sixteenth century". The story begins "There formerly lived at Bremen a wealthy merchant named Melchior". Melchior died suddenly and his son Francis inherit his father's wealth. Francis foolishly squanders his inheritance.

Francis spies a neighbor's daughter, named Meta, and falls in love with her. With an eye towards regaining fortune and earning Meta's hand in marriage, Francis sells purchases a horse and sets out on a journey.

On his journey, Francis seeks shelter in a castle, despite rumors that the castle is haunted. In the middle of the night, Francis is awakened and witnesses "a tall thin figure with a black beard, whose appearance was indicative of chagrin and melancholy. He was habited in the antique style, and on his left shoulder wore a red cloak or mantle, while his head was covered with a high-crowned hat. Three times with slow and measured steps he walked round the room, examined the consecrated candles, and snuffed them : he then threw off his cloak, unfolded a shaving apparatus, and took from it the razors, which he sharpened on a large leather strop hanging to his belt. "

The spectre motions for Francis, who complies and sits in front of the spectre. The spectre "placed the shaving-bib round his neck" and proceeds to remove all hair from Francis's head. Sensing that the spectre wants something, Francis "beckoned the phantom to seat himself in the chair", after which Francis shaves the spectre.

The ghost, grateful, tells Francis that, in life, he was the castle barber. The ghost confesses that his former lord "played all sorts of malicious tricks to strangers who sought refuge under his roof". The ghost explains "No sooner did I perceive a pious pilgrim, than in an endearing tone I urged him to come into the castle, and prepared a bath for him; and while he was enjoying the idea of being taken care of, I shaved his beard and head quite close, and then turned him out of the bye door, with raillery and ridicule." On one occasion, however, the victim of this trickery was a holy man who cursed the barber to "wander through this castle, in the form of a ghost, until some man, without being invited or constrained, shall do to you, what you have so long done to others".

Francis having freed the ghost from the curse lasting three hundred years, the ghost seeks to reward Francis, noting that "had I power over the hidden treasures of the globe, I would give them all to you". Instead, the spectre advises Francis to go to a particular location on the equinox and wait for someone who "shall tell you what you ought to do to get possession of terrestrial wealth."

At the appointed day, Francis meets a beggar who tells Francis of a dream in which an "angel stood at the foot of my bed" and told the beggar where to find buried treasure. Francis recognizes the location from its description as a garden that had belonged to his father.

Francis re-purchases the garden and discovers the treasure. His fortune restored, Francis proposes marriage to Meta, who accepts.

Later publications

Neither Tales of the Dead nor Fantasmagoriana received second editions during the remainder of the 19th century, and thus remained unavailable for most of the 20th century.

The books were printed anonymously, however, and so the individual stories were reprinted many times in various collections. Horace Welby's 1825 Signs before Death, and Authenticated Apparitions contained "The Storm" under the title "The Midnight Storm: (From the French)", as did William Charlton Wright's The Astrologer of the Nineteenth Century also published that year; Ambrose Marten's 1827 The Stanley Tales, Original and Select contained "The Spectre-Barber", "The Death's Head", "The Death-Bride", "The Fated Hour" and "The Storm"; The Penny Story-Teller for 15 August 1832 contained "The Fated Hour"; Henry Thomas Riley's 1835 The Continental Landscape Annual of European Scenery contained "The Spectre-Barber" under the title "The Merchant of Bremen"; Robert Bell's 1843 The Story-Teller; or, Table-Book of Popular Literature contained "The Spectre-Barber"; the 1840s The Annual Pearl: Or, Gift of Friendship contained "The Storm"; Henry F. Anners' 1851 Flowers of Loveliness: a Token of Remembrance, for 1852 contained "The Death's Head" under the title "The Ventriloquist of Marseilles", which was reprinted in Bernard Bowring's The Cabinet of Literary Gems; George Henry Borrow's 1867 Tales of the Wild and the Wonderful contained "The Spectre-Barber"; L. W. de Laurence's 1918 The Old Book of Magic contained "The Storm" under the title "The Midnight Storm" and more recently, Peter Haining's 1972 Great British Tales of Terror contained "The Spectre Barber".

In 1992, the Gothic Society of London published a new edition, introduced and slightly revised by Dr. Terry Hale (1957–). A second edition was published in 1994, but was only available by mail order. Hale's version received a Greek language translation by Nikos Stampakis as Istories ton Nekron (Ιστορίες των Nεκρών), by publishing house Archetypo-Metaekdotiki during 2003. The Greek edition claims to be the first available in bookstores since the 1810s.

In 2005, the first "full" English translation of Fantasmagoriana was published by Fantasmagoriana Press. This edition included three additional tales that Mrs Utterson had omitted from her translation: translations of "Le Revenant", "La Chambre grise" and "La Chambre noire", which Day gave the titles "The Ghost of the Departed", "The Grey Room" and "The Black Chamber". The book also provided an academic essay by A. J. Day with possible evidence for Mary Shelley's visit to Burg Frankenstein in Germany, prior to the writing of her novel. However, it omits Utterson's translation of the French translator's preface, and reproduces her abridged translation of "L'Amour Muet".

Two of the stories from Tales of the Dead – "The Family Portraits" and "The Death-Bride" – reprinted by permission of Terry Hale as "the two stories from Fantasmagoriana that seem to have made the biggest impression on the Geneva circle", were included in the 2008 edition of The Vampyre and Ernestus Berchtold; or, The Modern Œdipus edited by D. L. Macdonald and Kathleen Scherf.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Tales of the Dead" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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