The 1820 Vampire Craze

John William Polidori, author of “The Vampyre” (1819)

I discovered this intriguing newspaper article about the 1820 “vampyre craze” in featured in The National Gazette (Philadelphia, Penn.) 21 Nov. 1820, p. 2.

From a late French Journal.


Vampyres have been, of late, brought into fashion, by romances [Polodori‘s The Vampyre (1819), Cyprien Bérard’s Lord Ruthwen ou les Vampires (1820), an adaptation of Polodori’s story] and plays [Charles Nodier‘s Le Vampire (1820), an adaptation of Polodori’s story]. Vampyrism is worth attention as one of the wildest superstitions of the human mind. No great time has elapsed, since it prevailed in a deplorable manner among some European nations.

The idea is common among the Hungarians and the Moravians, that of the dead some return at night to torment the living, particularly their near relatives, to suck their blood and continue thus a sort of terrestrial existence at the expense of their victims. This absurd belief is found, more or less generally, among the Poles, the Silesians, the Servians, the modern Greeks, &c. It is reduced almost to a system among the Hungarians. They pretend to recognize by infallible symptoms, in particular dead bodies, the property of returning to such the blood of those who survive; they think they have a method for destroying this property and rendering themselves inaccessible, and it is they who have given the denomination of Vampyres, which means Blood Suckers, to the dead bodies which they endow with the property in question. Tournefort, in his account of his travels in Greece, gives a long and lively history of a Vampyre that infested , in 1701, the inhabitants of the Island of Mico [sic, Mykonos]. A poor peasant, killed in a quarrel, was accused of returning to the earth every night, beating people, breaking open doors, &c. “I had never, says Tournefort, seen any wretchedness and alarm greater than those of the island, on this account: the imagination of every body was completely disordered. Whole families, among the most sensible, abandoned their houses at night and slept in the open square of the city. Many fled into the country.” Tournefort passed for an idiot or an infidel when he appeared incredulous. The body of the peasant was exhumed two or three times each day, religious processions and fasts took place. At length in a fit of despair, the inhabitants determined to burn the body; which being done, the panic soon disappeared, from the supposition that the Devil was thus deprived of his nest.

It is not a century since this superstition of Vampyrism wore, in Hungary and Moravia, a much more appalling and serious character. It was believed that dead bodies, in which the blood remained at all fluid, were subject to Vampyrism; the point was determined by judicial inquest; the bodies suspected of the evil, were disinterred, the heads of them cut off, and their hearts pierved with a lance to destroy the dreaded attribute. Those who believed that they had been sucked by a vampyre, rubbed their persons over with earth taken from the grave of the deceased enemy they drank his blood, not to become vampyres themselves; for Vampyrism was thought to be communicable like a disease, and whoever was sucked, was held to be condemned to suck others after his death. The year 1732, as the one in which Vampyrism made the most noise in the Austrian Dominion. Many bodies were dug up; magistrates and military commissioners were employed to superintend the process mentioned above, which usually extended to burning and throwing the ashes in the rivers. Regular records, or Proces Verbaux, of these proceedings were transmitted in all the forms to Vienna.

The German scholars published dissertations upon vampyres, and after their example, the celebrated Don Calmet, compiled his “Treatise upon the Apparition of Spirits, and upon the Vampyres of Hungaria, Moravia, &c.

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