Monday, October 22, 2012

F. Marion Crawford (1854-1909)

Novelist, Short Story Writer, Playwright, Historian, Editor, Linguist, Translator
Born August 2, 1854, Bagni di Lucca, Toscana, Italy
Died April 9, 1909, Villa Crawford, Sorrento, Campania, Italy

Francis Marion Crawford was born on August 2, 1854, in Bagni di Lucca, an Italian comune known since ancient times for its hot springs. (Bagni means baths.) One way to look at Crawford's life is as one of associations. His parents were the American sculptor Thomas Crawford (1814-1857) and Louisa Cutler Ward. She was the sister of Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910), author of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," and Samuel Cutler Ward (1814-1884), the so-called "King of the Lobby." Further back on his mother's side, Crawford was related to William Greene (1731-1809), governor of Rhode Island, and Francis Marion (ca. 1732-1795), the famed "Swamp Fox" of the American Revolution, for whom he was named. F. Marion Crawford's own sister was Mary Crawford Fraser (1851-1922), also known as Mrs. Hugh Fraser. Wife of a diplomat, she too was an author. Her books included Palladia (1896), The Looms of Time (1898), The Stolen Emperor (1904), A Diplomatist's Wife in Japan (1912), and Italian Yesterdays (1913). The associations go on, but there's one that may be of interest to fans of weird fiction: H.P. Lovecraft was known to have included the names of old New England families in his fiction. Some of those names, such as Gamwell (or Gammell) and Whipple, came from his own family. That was also the case with the fictional character Ward Phillips, who shared a surname with Lovecraft's own mother. (Ward Phillips appeared in "Through the Gates of the Silver Key" by H.P. Lovecraft and E. Hoffman Price.) I suppose the name Ward came from F. Marion Crawford's family or one closely related to it. In any case, Crawford was intimately tied to old New England, yet he remained outside the mainstream of American literary life due to his many years in Italy.

Born in Italy and orphaned at a young age, Crawford attended school in New Hampshire and at Cambridge University, the University of Heidelberg, and the University of Rome. He studied Sanskrit and edited a newspaper in India. Crawford followed that with more studies and journalistic work at Harvard University. While in Boston, he also formed a lifelong friendship with Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924), a collector, philanthropist, and patron (or should that be matron?) of the arts. In this baseball playoff season, I would recommend reading about her thoughts on the Boston Red Sox.

F. Marion Crawford finally hit his stride in 1882 as an author of fiction and history. Beginning with Mr. Isaacs: A Tale of Modern India, Crawford published at least one book per year for the rest of his life. In the process, he became one of the most successful and popular of American authors. Many of his books were set in Italy, where he lived from 1883 onward. Crawford also wrote historical works on the country of his birth. Fans of Weird Tales remember him for his stories of the supernatural, such as  "The Upper Berth" (1885; in Weird Tales, June 1926) and "The Dead Smile" (1899; in Weird Tales, Summer 1974).  Some others:
  • "By the Waters of Paradise" (1887)
  • The Witch of Prague (1891)
  • Man Overboard! (1903)
  • "For the Blood Is the Life" (1905)
  • "The King's Messenger" (1907)
  • "The Screaming Skull" (1908)
  • "The Doll's Ghost" (1911)
Most of these stories appeared in the posthumous collection Uncanny Tales (1911), also called Wandering Ghosts.

Crawford converted to Catholicism in 1880 and married Elizabeth Christophers Berdan in a Catholic church in Constantinople in 1884. She was the daughter of Civil War general and inventor Hiram Berdan. The couple settled in Italy and raised a family of four children. Crawford's death came on Good Friday, 1909. His home in Sorrento, Villa Crawford, has since become a girl's school. F. Marion Crawford is remembered better today in Italy than in the United States. In recent years, his life and works have been the subject of conferences in what can be called his true home country, Italy.

F. Marion Crawford's Stories in Weird Tales
"The Upper Berth" (June 1926)
"The Dead Smile" (Summer 1974, originally in Ainslee's, Aug. 1899)

Further Reading
F. Marion Crawford is a prominent author. There is abundant information on him in print and on line.

The frontispiece for Wandering Ghosts by F. Marion Crawford (1911), illustration by M. Leone Bracker (1885-1937).
An illustration for Stradella (1909), artist unknown.
And another for the combined Marzio's Crucifix and Zoroaster from Crawford's collected works. The artist was Fletcher Ransom (1870-1943).
Crawford got star treatment from James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960) in The Diva's Ruby (1908). Flagg is considered one of America's great illustrators, yet I find the illustration for Stradella (above) more effective. To be fair, this drawing would have come early in Flagg's career.
In addition to horror stories or supernatural stories, Crawford wrote fantasy. Here's the cover for his novel Khaled, issued in 1971 by Ballantine Books, edited and introduced by Lin Carter.

Text and captions copyright 2012, 2023 Terence E. Hanley


  1. An excellent sketch

  2. Thank you for this fine FMC tribute.

  3. Dear Anonymous and Anonymous,

    Thank you for your comments. I'm glad I can be of service.


  4. That's great! I was looking for the drawing "Zoroaster" by Ransom. Quite helpful indeed.

    1. Dear Anonymous Again.

      Ditto on my responses above. You're welcome.