This month we are delighted to focus on all that is spooky, macabre and gothic in the John Rylands Library collections.
A rather exciting recent addition to the Rylands Collection in LUNA is English MS 1333, the prompt book for Henry Irving’s 1885 production of William Gorman Wills’s Faust. Irving starred as the devil Mephistopheles in a number of productions of Faust throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. This copy, prepared by the Lyceum’s prompter, James H. Allen, in 1894, records amendments to the text, from the original 1885 production to the revivals in 1894 and 1902, as well as cues inserted by Allen. Many printed lines of Wills’s verse have been excised and new verse speeches have been inserted by several hands including Irving’s and Allen’s. A supporting illustrated souvenir guide to the 1894 revival housed alongside English MS 1333 by Joseph Hatton is also available.
Henry Irving’s portrayal of Mephistopheles was a roaring commercial success at the height of Irving’s fame as actor–manager of the Lyceum Theatre. The business manager of the Lyceum and personal assistant to Irving at the time was non-other than Dracula author Bram Stoker. Stoker was devoted to the talented and charismatic Irving who it has been suggested was an inspiration for the titular character of Dracula. Amongst our collections we have a letter written by Stoker to the Manchester Journalist John Howard Nodal. The letter (sent the year after the publication of Dracula) is on paper headed “Tour, 1888: Mr Henry Irving and the Lyceum Company”. In it he offers thanks for a previous letter and passes on the regards of [Henry] Irving whilst regretting that he and Irving had missed meeting Nodal on a recent visit to Manchester.
A letter from the author of Dracula is not the only item of interest in our collections for those that appreciate classic literary horror. The contentious issue of who authored the earlier and arguably genre defining The Vampyre is clarified in this facsimile letter from Lord Byron to Galignani’s Messenger (a daily Parisian paper in English). Byron was popularly attributed as the author of The Vampyre where in fact it was his doctor John William Polidori who penned the chilling tale. In his letter, Byron publically denies his involvement with the work. The Vampyre was Polidori’s literary contribution to the stories originally produced by Byron and his guests at the now famed 1816 summer gathering at Lake Geneva. The eerie stories, including the far more famous offering by Mary Shelley of Frankenstein were devised as entertainment to divert the group of Byron, Polidori, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and Claire Clairmont from the unseasonal summer weather. Ironically, the devilish, or as Lady Caroline Lamb dubbed him ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’ Byron was more than likely the living inspiration for Polidori’s vampiric character Lord Ruthven.
In addition to Mephistopheles, we have uncovered quite a number of little devils across the breadth of our collections. Some other favourites that we have digitised include the etching below by Daniel Hopfer entitled Memento Mori. Tiny little devils also appear in a number of the exquisitely illuminated miniatures from Latin Manuscript 164, one of our Horae (Book of Hours). See if you can spot them in the miniatures of St John, St Michael, St Nicholas and St Genevieve. What is certain is that the Special Collections here at the John Rylands Library are so diverse, that many more devils are undoubtedly here just waiting to be discovered by researchers. And you know what they say, speak of the devil…