Monday, October 24, 2011

Weird Tales from the Revolution, Restoration, and Union

John Milton
Born December 9, 1608, Cheapside, London, England
Died November 8, 1674, Bunhill, London, England

Daniel Defoe
Né Daniel Foe
Aka Daniel De Foe and at least 198 different pen names (according to Wikipedia)
Born ca. 1659-1661, London?, England
Died April 24, 1731, In hiding?, England

Weird Tales published many works from authors well known but long dead. It doesn't really matter that the practice might look to us like an attempt to lend an air of high culture to the magazine or an avoidance of paying authors for their work. I'm more inclined to think that if it qualified as a weird tale, it was fitting for the magazine. In any case, from that apparently unnamed period in English history between the end of the Renaissance and the beginning of the Age of Reason (or the Industrial Revolution) comes the work of Milton and Defoe.

Defoe's story is either a journalistic account or a well-disguised work of fiction detailing the apparition of a departed Mrs. Veal before one of her friends. The full title of the work is "A Relation of the Apparition of Mrs. Veal," and it was perhaps drawn from The Novels and Miscellaneous Works of Daniel De Foe, volume 5, edited by Sir Walter Scott (Oxford, 1840). I don't know the date of the original composition or publication of the story, but the apparation is said to have taken place on September 8, 1705. Mrs. Veal made another apparition in Weird Tales in December 1926. The magazine would have been on the newsstand at about the time H.P. Lovecraft was working on "The Call of Cthulhu." Although the story may not have influenced Lovecraft in his work, it may have given him some affirmation that the journalistic approach he had taken was the right one.

Milton's work was a poem, "L'Allegro," and part of Virgil Finlay's poetry series. I haven't seen the full text of what appeared in Weird Tales, but I suspect that it was less than Milton's whole poem, which runs to 152 lines. Here are the first ten, sure to appeal to readers of "The Unique Magazine":

Hence loathed Melancholy
Of Cerberus, and blackest midnight born,
In Stygian Cave forlorn
'Mongst horrid shapes, and shreiks, and sights unholy,
Find out som uncouth cell,
Wher brooding darknes spreads his jealous wings,
And the night-Raven sings;
There under Ebon shades, and low-brow'd Rocks,
As ragged as thy Locks,
In dark Cimmerian desert ever dwell.

(From Milton's Poems [1645]).

Reading Milton and other poets from the 17th and 18th centuries makes it easy to see where Lovecraft got his inspiration. Lovecraft may even have imagined himself as the poem's personified "loathed Melancholy."

That's not Howard's Cimmeria by the way, but Homer's.

John Milton's Poem in Weird Tales
"L'Allegro" (Jan. 1939)

Daniel Defoe's Story in Weird Tales
"The Apparition of Mrs. Veal" (Dec. 1926)

"De Foe in the Pillory," an engraving by J.C. Armytage. How could I pass up a beautifully made work like this one, showing an author from Weird Tales being pilloried?
Defoe wasn't the only one. Milton was clapped into prison late in life for his support of the Revolution. Here is the  frontispiece and title page of his Poems.
Text and captions copyright 2011 Terence E. Hanley

No comments:

Post a Comment