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October-ganza 27: “Witches and Other Night Fears”

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October 27, 2014 by Bret Kramer (aka WinstonP)

Today’s October-ganza entry is a little different.  Instead of looking at New England folklore or overtly occult topics, I thought it might be entertaining to look at a short piece of literature utilized by Lovecraft: Charles Lamb’s essay “Witches and Other Night Fears”

Charles Lamb

Charles Lamb

The essay, written in in 1821, was quoted in part as an epigram by Lovecraft at the beginning of The Dunwich Horror (written itself in 1928).

Charles Lamb (b. Feb 10, 1775, d. Dec 27 1834) was a British poet, essayist and author.  Perhaps of greatest interest to Lovecraftian readers, Lamb was touched by mental illness; he was institutionalized for a short period in 1795 and his older sister Mary was institutionalized after murdering their mother the year after.  Lamb fought for her release after a few years, after she regained her wits.  Together they lived in London, involved heavily in the society of writers there in the early 19th century; among his closest friends was the writer Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

The portion of the essay quoted by Lovecraft in turn begins with Lamb making an allusion to Milton’s description of Hell in Paradise Lost (“Gorgons, and Hydras, and Chimæras dire”), Edmund Spenser’s Epithalamion (“Names whose sense we see not”), and Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner (this quote in turn was also used by Mary Shelley in Frankenstein… and in Fallout: New Vegas, not by Shelley).  Lovecraft, however, excised the direct quotes from the other authors.

If you’ve ever wondered what the rest of that essay looked like,the entirely of Lamb’s essay here.

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