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John William Polidori – His Words of that Fateful Event

Copied with permission from the Gutenberg project.

John William Polidori was among those at Villa Diodati that fateful summer when Mary, Percy and Claire came to visit Lord Byron. Challenged to write a ghost story Polidori started out with some vague story about a woman with a skull head. Luckily he changed it and wrote The Vampyre instead.

I’ve read the book and listened to it on audio. If you check it out keep in mind when it was written. It is an interesting account and a cautionary tale. Obviously, Polidori knew about vampires. So, it was simple enough to include one in my novel and make Polidori, who was not much older than Mary Shelley at the time, a monster hunter in Mary’s league.

You can get an idea of his style of writing and even a glimpse at who he was from this letter that introduces his novel.

Sadly, Polidori suffered from depression and committed suicide in his early twenties. He was an interesting person being chosen as Lord Byron’s personal physician. He graduated from medical school when he was only 19.  He wrote a novel that enjoyed a modicum of popularity. And he hung out with some really cool people.

"I breathe freely in the neighbourhood of this lake; the ground upon
which I tread has been subdued from the earliest ages; the principal
objects which immediately strike my eye, bring to my recollection
scenes, in which man acted the hero and was the chief object of
interest. Not to look back to earlier times of battles and sieges,
here is the bust of Rousseau--here is a house with an inscription
denoting that the Genevan philosopher first drew breath under its
roof. A little out of the town is Ferney, the residence of Voltaire;
where that wonderful, though certainly in many respects contemptible,
character, received, like the hermits of old, the visits of pilgrims,
not only from his own nation, but from the farthest boundaries of
Europe. Here too is Bonnet's abode, and, a few steps beyond, the house
of that astonishing woman Madame de Stael: perhaps the first of her
sex, who has really proved its often claimed equality with, the nobler
man. We have before had women who have written interesting novels and
poems, in which their tact at observing drawing-room characters has
availed them; but never since the days of Heloise have those faculties
which are peculiar to man, been developed as the possible inheritance
of woman. Though even here, as in the case of Heloise, our sex have
not been backward in alledging the existence of an Abeilard in the
person of M. Schlegel as the inspirer of her works. But to proceed:
upon the same side of the lake, Gibbon, Bonnivard, Bradshaw, and
others mark, as it were, the stages for our progress; whilst upon the
other side there is one house, built by Diodati, the friend of Milton,
which has contained within its walls, for several months, that poet
whom we have so often read together, and who--if human passions remain
the same, and human feelings, like chords, on being swept by nature's
impulses shall vibrate as before--will be placed by posterity in the
first rank of our English Poets. You must have heard, or the Third
Canto of Childe Harold will have informed you, that Lord Byron resided
many months in this neighbourhood. I went with some friends a few days
ago, after having seen Ferney, to view this mansion. I trod the floors
with the same feelings of awe and respect as we did, together, those
of Shakespeare's dwelling at Stratford. I sat down in a chair of the
saloon, and satisfied myself that I was resting on what he had made
his constant seat. I found a servant there who had lived with him;
she, however, gave me but little information. She pointed out his
bed-chamber upon the same level as the saloon and dining-room, and
informed me that he retired to rest at three, got up at two, and
employed himself a long time over his toilette; that he never went to
sleep without a pair of pistols and a dagger by his side, and that he
never ate animal food. He apparently spent some part of every day upon
the lake in an English boat. There is a balcony from the saloon which
looks upon the lake and the mountain Jura; and I imagine, that it must
have been hence, he contemplated the storm so magnificently described
in the Third Canto; for you have from here a most extensive view of
all the points he has therein depicted. I can fancy him like the
scathed pine, whilst all around was sunk to repose, still waking to
observe, what gave but a weak image of the storms which had desolated
his own breast.
The sky is changed!--and such a change; Oh, night!
And storm and darkness, ye are wond'rous strong,
Yet lovely in your strength, as is the light
Of a dark eye in woman! Far along
From peak to peak, the rattling crags among,
Leaps the lire thunder! Not from one lone cloud,
But every mountain now hath found a tongue,
And Jura answers thro' her misty shroud,
Back to the joyous Alps who call to her aloud!
And this is in the night:--Most glorious night!
Thou wer't not sent for slumber! let me be
A sharer in thy far and fierce delight,--
A portion of the tempest and of me!
How the lit lake shines a phosphoric sea,
And the big rain comet dancing to the earth!
And now again 'tis black,--and now the glee
Of the loud hills shakes with its mountain mirth,
As if they did rejoice o'er a young; earthquake's birth,
Now where the swift Rhine cleaves his way between
Heights which appear, as lovers who have parted
In haste, whose mining depths so intervene,
That they can meet no more, tho' broken hearted;
Tho' in their souls which thus each other thwarted,
Love was the very root of the fond rage
Which blighted their life's bloom, and then departed--
Itself expired, but leaving; them an age
Of years all winter--war within themselves to wage.
I went down to the little port, if I may use the expression, wherein
his vessel used to lay, and conversed with the cottager, who had the
care of it. You may smile, but I have my pleasure in thus helping my
personification of the individual I admire, by attaining to the
knowledge of those circumstances which were daily around him. I have
made numerous enquiries in the town concerning him, but can learn
nothing. He only went into society there once, when M. Pictet took him
to the house of a lady to spend the evening. They say he is a very
singular man, and seem to think him very uncivil. Amongst other things
they relate, that having invited M. Pictet and Bonstetten to dinner,
he went on the lake to Chillon, leaving a gentleman who travelled with
him to receive them and make his apologies. Another evening, being
invited to the house of Lady D---- H----, he promised to attend,
but upon approaching the windows of her ladyship's villa, and
perceiving the room to be full of company, he set down his friend,
desiring him to plead his excuse, and immediately returned home. This
will serve as a contradiction to the report which you tell me is
current in England, of his having been avoided by his countrymen on
the continent. The case happens to be directly the reverse, as he has
been generally sought by them, though on most occasions, apparently
without success. It is said, indeed, that upon paying his first visit
at Coppet, following the servant who had announced his name, he was
surprised to meet a lady carried out fainting; but before he had been
seated many minutes, the same lady, who had been so affected at the
sound of his name, returned and conversed with him a considerable
time--such is female curiosity and affectation! He visited Coppet
frequently, and of course associated there with several of his
countrymen, who evinced no reluctance to meet him whom his enemies
alone would represent as an outcast.
Though I have been so unsuccessful in this town, I have been more
fortunate in my enquiries elsewhere. There is a society three or four
miles from Geneva, the centre of which is the Countess of Breuss, a
Russian lady, well acquainted with the agrémens de la Société, and who
has collected them round herself at her mansion. It was chiefly here,
I find, that the gentleman who travelled with Lord Byron, as
physician, sought for society. He used almost every day to cross the
lake by himself, in one of their flat-bottomed boats, and return after
passing the evening with his friends, about eleven or twelve at night,
often whilst the storms were raging in the circling summits of the
mountains around. As he became intimate, from long acquaintance, with
several of the families in this neighbourhood, I have gathered from
their accounts some excellent traits of his lordship's character,
which I will relate to you at some future opportunity. I must,
however, free him from one imputation attached to him--of having in
his house two sisters as the partakers of his revels. This is, like
many other charges which have been brought against his lordship,
entirely destitute of truth. His only companion was the physician I
have already mentioned. The report originated from the following
circumstance: Mr. Percy Bysshe Shelly, a gentleman well known for
extravagance of doctrine, and for his daring, in their profession,
even to sign himself with the title of ATHeos in the Album at
Chamouny, having taken a house below, in which he resided with Miss M.
W. Godwin and Miss Clermont, (the daughters of the celebrated Mr.
Godwin) they were frequently visitors at Diodati, and were often seen
upon the lake with his Lordship, which gave rise to the report, the
truth of which is here positively denied.
Among other things which the lady, from whom I procured these
anecdotes, related to me, she mentioned the outline of a ghost story
by Lord Byron. It appears that one evening Lord B., Mr. P. B. Shelly,
the two ladies and the gentleman before alluded to, after having
perused a German work, which was entitled Phantasmagoriana, began
relating ghost stories; when his lordship having recited the beginning
of Christabel, then unpublished, the whole took so strong a hold of
Mr. Shelly's mind, that he suddenly started up and ran out of the
room. The physician and Lord Byron followed, and discovered him
leaning against a mantle-piece, with cold drops of perspiration
trickling down his face. After having given him something to refresh
him, upon enquiring into the cause of his alarm, they found that his
wild imagination having pictured to him the bosom of one of the ladies
with eyes (which was reported of a lady in the neighbourhood where he
lived) he was obliged to leave the room in order to destroy the
impression. It was afterwards proposed, in the course of conversation,
that each of the company present should write a tale depending upon
some supernatural agency, which was undertaken by Lord B., the
physician, and Miss M. W. Godwin.[1] My friend, the lady above
referred to, had in her possession the outline of each of these
stories; I obtained them as a great favour, and herewith forward them
to you, as I was assured you would feel as much curiosity as myself,
to peruse the ebauches of so great a genius, and those immediately
under his influence."
[1] Since published under the title of "Frankenstein; or, The Modern

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