When did vampires first hit the news headlines in England? It was on the 11th March, 1732, when they appeared in the London Journal (later reprinted in The Gentleman’s Magazine – the image above).
The rumours had been drifting westward for a few decades from Eastern Europe. Finally, they were filling English print:
“certain dead bodies called vampyres, had kill’d several persons by sucking out all their blood.”
But the tone of the article rapidly adopts a sarcastic tone. And the target is squarely directed towards the government. A political commentator, styling himself as ‘Caleb D’Anvers’, wrote:
‘These vampyres are said to torment and kill the living by sucking out all their blood; and a ravenous minister, in this part of the world, is compared to a leech or a blood-sucker, and carries his oppressions beyond the grave, by anticipating the publick Revenues, and entailing a perpetuity of taxes, which must gradually drain the nody politick of its blood and spirits.’
In this context, the target probably wasn’t a big surprise. The commentator, D’Anvers, was actually Nicholas Amhurst, a satirist. He was writing in a publication fiercely opposed to the government – which at the time, was led by Robert Walpole. (The father of Horace Walpole, author of the first gothic horror novel – The Castle of Otranto).
Right from the outset, vampires were a natural political metaphor. Karl Marx used them on more than one occasion, writing in Das Kapital that ‘capital is dead labour which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour.’ It’s a long heritage that runs all the way up to George Romero, with his ghouls baying for blood at the doors of shopping mall in Day of the Dead (1978) – yet another capitalist satire.
But all this satire and metaphor – it’s not quite what one might have expected when searching for vampires in the history books. A little more blood and stakings might have been nice. So let’s try again – in part 2 of the first English vampire [coming soon…]