The Vampire Defined, in 1842

While doing some research for another blog post I stumbled across a Google Books copy of William Thomas Brande’s 1842 Dictionary of Science, Literature & Art which includes an in-depth entry on vampires. This is fairly in-depth for something written before vampire literature had become a coherent genre, and makes an interesting time capsule. I searched and found very little about the entry online, so I decided to repost it in its entirety.


VAMPIRE. A bloodsucking spectre; the object of superstitious dread among various nations of Europe. The belief in vampires, i.e., in persons returning to the earth after death and burial, not as ghosts, but in actual corporeal substance, and sucking the blood of living men, appears to have prevailed in classical times. The Empusae, Lamiae, and Lemures were species of vampires. One of the most detailed stories of vampires is the tale of Machates and Philinnion which Goethe has made the foundation of his poem of the Bride of Corinth: in which the dead bride of a young man visits him at night, and withers him by her embrace.

But in modern Europe, the populations among which vampire superstitions have prevailed appear to be of Slavonic descent. The word vampire is said by Adelung to be of Servian origin; and although the modem Greeks have also their vampires, yet the barbaric, names by which they call them (Vroucolachas, Vuroulachas, Vardoulachas) seem rather to indicate the Slavonic, or perhaps Albanian source from which they derived both the tradition and the word. In Crete they are called Katakhanas, and firmly believed in. (See Pashley’s Travels.) About a century ago, there prevailed in several districts of Hungary an epidemic dread of vampires, which lasted some years, and gave birth to many extraordinary stories.

It was believed that in several places those among the dead who belonged to the class of vampires arose nightly from their graves and sucked the blood of the living, who fell into consumptions and perished; that those who had died in this manner became infected with vampirism; and that the only way of exterminating the plague was by disinterring all the suspected vampires, and, if it were discovered that they exhibited the tokens of their hideous character, burning them to ashes, or driving a stake through their middle. The attestations winch these grotesquely fearful tales received, are among the most singular instances of human credulity recorded in all the annals of superstition.

They are, in many instances, related on the authority of the pastors and other most credible persons of villages and towns, who depose to having been themselves witnesses of the scenes beheld on opening the vampires’ graves. Some, indeed, had actually seen the specters themselves on their nightly excursions; but more generally the subscriptions are by persons present at the inspection of the dead bodies; when, if the subject was a true vampire, he was generally found of a florid and hale complexion; his hair, beard, and nails had grown; his mouth, hands, &c, were stained with fresh blood; his eyes open and brilliant. Sometimes, when the stake was driven through him, he was heard to utter cries like those of a living person. It was believed that the consumption produced by the sucking of the vampire could be cured by eating earth from his grave. The popular name of the vampire-bat (vespertilio spectrum), a small animal of South America which sucks the blood of persons asleep, is derived from these imaginary monsters.

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