Colonial Horrors: Sleepy Hollow and Beyond
Edited by Graeme Davis
An uneven collection, given the subject.
Colonial Horrors gathers "true" anecdotes and folklore, alternating with short stories and novel excerpts. The high points are several Washington Irving tales and the great colonial section of Lovecraft's The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.
North America was settled in a series of retrospectively horrible social advances by the bourgeoisie; alas, the editor lets this go unmentioned, which is preferable to petty bourgeois moralizing.
One might say, though Graeme Davisdoes not, that North American from earliest European settlement was horror-haunted. Certainly Irving, Hawthorne, and Lovecraft made use of this conclusion.
9 September 2018
A few notes and excerpts:
THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW by Washington Irving
Perhaps because his "Sleepy Hollow" tale has become associated with Halloween instead of Christmas, Washington Irving has always been associated in my mind with autumn in Applachian New York State: narrow and winding roads through woods and farmland ripened beyond maturity. foretelling frost and the aftermath of harvest.
Irving was not a localist. He was a cosmopolitan traveller and one of the artistic compilers of the intellectual and aesthetic "matter" of the United States: a primary bourgeois ideological accumulator.
Ichabod Crane's mind is full of weird lore of the Colonial period. As with his hunger for food, he can dialate like an anaconda when it comes to gossip about ghosts and witches. This turns out to be his undoing.
"Sleepy Hollow" imbricates regional history, folkways, and humor. Horror is something that, happily, occurs to other people.
AN ESSAY FOR THE RECORDING OF REMARKABLE PROVIDENCES by Increase Mather
In North America the first settlers saw the devil everywhere. The land was exceptional in the social contradictions that accumulated: chattel slavery, prehistoric indigenous cultures, famy farmers. For Increase Mather every anecdote about possession or haunting suggested a continent under infernal shadow.
WONDERS OF THE INVISIBLE WORLD by Cotton Mather
Anecdotes and judicial hearsay about witches testified that the supernatural was real, that essence ruled material existence. Cotton Mather bundled it together as confirmation of Christianity. Like his father, Cotton's writing style is soporific, though his subject matter still fascinates (c.f.. You Tube).
LITHOBOLIA by R.C.
Stephen King began Carrie with a rain of stones. Fort showed how universally the phenomenon was reported. R.C. gives us an unrelenting drama couched in everyday impossibility.
WIELAND by Charles Brockden Brown
The U.S. is the home of do-it-yourself religion: everything from Mormonism to Scientology.
THE MONEY-DIGGERS by Washington Irving
This little thematic knot of stories by Irving is the high point of the anthology. The cash nexus has been the heart of the matter since the landing at Plymouth Rock. Irving's light touch and organizational mastery are well-displayed in "Hell Gate," "The Devil and Tom Walker," and "Wolfert Webber."
RACHEL DYER by John Neal
....But as to mother Good, when they brought her up for trial, she would neither confess to the charge nor pray the court for mercy; but she stood up and mocked the jury and the people, and reproved the judges for hearkening to a body of accusers who were collected from all parts of the country, were of all ages, and swore to facts, which if they ever occurred at all, had occurred years and years before—facts which it would have been impossible for her to contradict, even though they had all been, as a large part of them obviously were, the growth of mistake or of superstitious dread. Her behavior was full of courage during the trial; and after the trial was over, and up to the last hour and last breath of her life, it was the same.
MOLL PITCHER by John Greenleaf Whittier
....How has New England's romance fled, Even as a vision of the morning!
Its rites foregone—its guardians dead— Its altar-fires. extinguished— Its priestesses, bereft of dread,
Waking the veriest urchin's scorning!
No more along the shadowy glen,
Glide the dim ghosts of murdered men,— No more the unquiet church-yard dead, Glimpse upward from their turfy bed, Startling the traveller, late and lone;
As, on some night of cloudy weather, They commune silently together.
THE BIRTH-MARK by Nathaniel Hawthorne
"Georgiana," said he, "has it never occurred to you that the mark upon your cheek might be removed?"
A TALE OF THE RAGGED MOUNTAINS by Edgar Allan Poe
....There came a wild rattling or jingling sound, as if of a bunch of large keys, and upon the instant a dusky-visaged and half-naked man rushed past me with a shriek. He came so close to my person that I felt his hot breath upon my face. He bore in one hand an instrument composed of an assemblage of steel rings, and shook them vigorously as he ran. Scarcely had he disappeared in the mist before, panting after him, with open mouth and glaring eyes, there darted a huge beast. I could not be mistaken in its character. It was a hyena.
THE LAKE GUN by James Fenimore Cooper
....The "Lake Gun" is a mystery. It is a sound resembling the explosion of a heavy piece of artillery, that can be accounted for by none of the known laws of nature. The report is deep, hollow, distant, and imposing. The lake seems to be speaking to the surrounding hills, which send back the echoes of its voice in accurate reply. No satisfactory theory has ever been broached to explain these noises. Conjectures have been hazarded about chasms, and the escape of compressed air by the sudden admission of water; but all this is talking at random, and has probably no foundation in truth. The most that can be said is, that such sounds are heard, though at long intervals, and that no one as yet has succeeded in ascertaining their cause.
IN THE PINES by W. F. Mayer
"And now, something about Leeds's devil!" I said to my friend, after satisfactory definition of the Pine Rat; "what fiend may he be, if you please?"
"I will answer,—I will tell you," replies Mr. B. "There lived, in the year 1735, in the township of Burlington, a woman. Her name was Leeds, and she was shrewdly suspected of a little amateur witchcraft. Be that as it may, it is well established, that, one stormy, gusty night, when the wind was howling in turret and tree, Mother Leeds gave birth to a son, whose father could have been no other than the Prince of Darkness.
THE ROMANCE OF CERTAIN OLD CLOTHES by Henry James
There is only one writer named James whose ghost stories I treasure. And it isn't Henry. The tedium of "Romance of Certain Old Clothes" is unbearable. On each page the author gives the reader at least five reasons to give up and skip to the next tale.
AN AUTHENTICATED HISTORY OF THE BELL WITCH by Martin van Buren Ingram
...."I am the spirit of a person who was buried in the woods nearby, and the grave has been disturbed, my bones disinterred and scattered, and one of my teeth was lost under this house, and I am here looking for that tooth."
MYTHS AND LEGENDS OF OUR OWN LAND by Charles M. Skinner
Skinner is a new name to me, and I found his nine volume folklore collection on Project Gutenberg. Perfect for a wet afternoon.
THE SALEM WOLF by Howard Pyle
....Granny Whitlow laughed very wickedly. "Do you speak of the evil eye?" says she. "Well, then, he may keep his cider, and he may take my black curse along with it," and with that she went out of the shed and left them.
THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD by H. P. Lovecraft
Ward has always been my favorite by Lovecraft. Its interweaving of colonial and modern periods is handled with deft confidence. The Curwen flashback is a perfect engine of thrills. With brief strokes we are given the characters, the topography, and unmatched conflict.