zondag 27 april 2014

John William Polidori -- 26 april 1816

• John William Polidori (1795-1821) was Engelse schrijver en arts, en initiator van het vampiergenre in de literatuur. Onderstaand fragment, over een reis naar Europa in het gezelschap van Lord Byron, is afkomstig uit: The Diary of Dr. John William Polidori (1816).

April 26. — We embarked at 9 o'clock, much hurried, with three servants.

[This means, to judge from a published letter by Byron, 9 o'clock on the evening of April 25. The three servants were Berger (a Swiss), William Fletcher, and Robert Rushton. Mr. Davies and Mr. Hobhouse, it will be understood, remained ashore.]

When at a distance, we waved our hands and hats, bidding adieu. The wind was completely in our teeth, but we made the passage in sixteen hours. The coast of Dover is very striking, though miserably barren-looking. The cliff is steep, though not such as Shakespear paints. The castle — at a distance, which is the only way I viewed it — is miserable. Sailing from England, I for a long time kept my eye upon its stern white cliffs, thinking on her who bade me join her remembrance with the last sight of my native soil.

[This points pretty clearly to a love-passage, perhaps a matrimonial engagement. As a fact Polidori never married. The lady may possibly have been Eliza Arrow, a relative in India, with whom he, at a rather earlier date, had interchanged various letters.]

They at last faded from my sight, and all on board looked dreary ; the sea dashed over us, and all wore an aspect of grief. Towards night a most beautiful spectacle was seen by myself, who alone remained on deck. The stars shedding merely a twilight enabled me to see the phosphoric light of the broken foam in all its splendour. But the most beautiful moment was that of its first appearance : no sound around save the sullen rushing of the vessel, and the hoarse cries of the heaving sailor ; no light save a melancholy twilight, which soothed the mind into forgetfulness of its grief for a while — a beautiful streak following the lead through the waves. We arrived at Ostend at 2 o'clock in the morning.

[Polidori's chronology is a little confusing here. If the party left Dover at 9 p.m. on April 25, and took sixteen hours in the sea-passage, they must have reached Ostend at i in the afternoon. There is also a confusion immediately afterwards, for he repeats the date for which he has already accounted, viz.]

April 26. — We passed through the gates, paying a franc a head, and went to the Cour Imp^riale. We were astonished at the excellent inn and good treat- ment, except that I got a dreadful headache from the smell of paint in my bedroom, and that the tea was perfumed.

[It was, I believe, at this point of the narrative that my aunt Charlotte Polidori cut out a peccant passage. I seem to remember the precise diction of it, which was this: "As soon as he reached his room, Lord Byron fell like a thunderbolt upon the chambermaid." Such at any rate was the substance of the statement. The other statement which my aunt excluded came somewhat further on, when Dr. Polidori was staying near Geneva. He gave some account of a visit of his to some haunt of the local Venus Pandemos. I think the police took some notice of it. The performance was not decorous, but was related without any verbal impropriety.]

Arising in the morning, I went upon a stroll round the town. Saw little girls of all ages with head- dresses ; books in every bookseller's window of the most obscene nature ; women with wooden shoes ; men of low rank basking in the sun as if that would evaporate their idleness. The houses generally good old style, very like a Scotch town, only not quite so filthy. Very polite custom-house officers, and very civil waiters. Fine room painted as a panorama, all French-attitudinized. Went into a shop where no one spoke French. Tried German ; half-a-dozen women burst out laughing at me. Luckily for myself, in a good humour; laughed with them. Obliged to buy two books I did not want, because I let a quarto fall upon a fine girl's head while looking at her eyes. Coaches of the most horrid construction ; apparently some fine horses, others small. Fortifications look miserable. Once stood a fine siege, when 40,000 on one side and 80 on the other fed fowls and manured the fields. What for? For religion? No — for money. There was the spring of all. As long as only religion and rights were affected, bigoted religionists and wild republicans were alone concerned ; but a step too far, and all was ruined.

[The allusion here is to the great siege of Ostend, 1 60 1 to 1604.]


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