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Notes on ''The Tomb''

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Some more of my notes on Lovecraft's stories.




1. ''Sedibus ut saltem in morte placidis quiescam'' – so that in death at least I might find a place of rest, (Aeneid, Virgil, line 371). This is the last plea of Palinurus to Aeneas when they meet before the banks of the river Acheron in the Underworld. The unburied, like Palinurus, were not suffered to pass by Charon the ferryman and must ''roam and flit'' on its banks. Palinurus hoped that the semi-divine Aeneas might either bury him in the upper-world or take him across the river. He is met with stern refusal from the Sibyl, Aeneas' companion, but is consoled by having Cape Palinurus in Italy named after him.


A thorough understanding of the myth of Palinurus is necessary to understand this story – the central idea being that the unburied do not find the peace of oblivion – that Jervas Hyde, burnt to ashes and scattered, may have remained in some measure alive until he ''would claim his heritage of death, even though my soul go seeking through the ages for another corporeal tenement to represent it on that vacant slab in the alcove of the vault.''. His coffin is prepared, and he fastens on to the young Jervas Dudley as a double (and he is, by his own admission, exceptionally perceptive and aware that to talk of ''reality'' is a nonsense, all that we perceive is the result of imperfectly evolved but roughly adequate sense-apparatuses that merely outperformed all others existing. As a fastened-double, cf Asenath Waite – both have fine minds, extremely acute perceptions and weak wills) or is Jervas Dudley, as a sort of latent double awakened by his ''change'' on the first night of voices, or by his coffin-sleeps and strange dealings with the dead (or dreams, or delusions), so that when the latter dies he (too) will be laid to rest in a body.


A direct allusion is later made to Palinurus.


2. ''Sylvan'' – wooded, rustic or pastoral, Lat. silva, a wood.


3. This is an allusion to the ''Parallel Lives'' of Plutarch, a Greek essayist of the first and second centuries A.D. The work itself consists of a series of alternating Lives of famous and mythological Greeks and Romans (twenty-three pairs arrranged on account of similarity, comparisons of the moral virtues and failings of the members of each pair, and four unpaired lives), intended rather as studies of character and its effect upon the destiny of great men than as history. The translation obtained by Jervas Dudley is almost certainly that supervised by John Dryden, first published 1683.


According to Plutarch, Theseus, the legendary second-founder of Athens, was the bastard son of Aegeus and Aethra, daughter of King Pittheus of Troezon.


The relevant passage is:


''Aegeus afterwards, knowing her whom he had lain with to be Pittheus's daughter, and suspecting her to be with child by him, left a sword and a pair of shoes, hiding them under a great stone that had a hollow in it exactly fitting them; and went away making her only privy to it, and commanding her, if she brought forth a son who, when he came to man's estate, should be able to lift up the stone and take away what he had left there, she should send him away to him with those things with all secrecy''


4. Chesterfield – this is an allusion to Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield (1694-1773), statesman, wit, debauchee and man of letters, now chiefly remembered for his posthumously published Letters (condemned as immoral) to his bastard son.


5. Rochester – an allusion to John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, (1647-1680), poet, satirist, hedonist and notorious libertine of the court of Charles II. His poetry censured for immorality, his death at 33 said to be either on account of syphilis or Bright's disease.


6. Gay is John Gay (1685-1732), poet and dramatist noted for e.g. the satirical Shepherd's Week and the parody Beggar's Opera which is said to have ''made Gay rich, and made Rich gay'' (Rich was the director of the New Theatre, Lincoln's Inn, at which the production was staged.


7. Prior is Matthew Prior (1664-1721), Epicurean, poet, satirist and diplomat, especially noted as an epigrammatist.


8. The ''Augustan wits and rimesters'' are those writers associated with the so-called Augustan period (c. 1700-1740, ending with the deaths of Pope (Dunciad, Rape of the Lock) in 1744 and Swift (Gulliver's Travels) in 1745. The name itself derives from an parody epistle by Pope imitating Horace's  ''Ad Augustum'', a disguised form of George II, in which he notes the increasing literary sophistication of the writers of his day, analogous to the increasing mannered elegance, political preoccupation and tendency to satire in the Latin poets after the death of Julius Caesar.


9. A bag-wig had the queue or long hanging portion at the back tied up in a bag of black taffeta.

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I liked this story a lot. Review here. I made fewer notes than usual though, because I was so gripped! I also felt that in many was it was a precursor to Charles Dexter Ward.

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Indeed. It is a very fine story. I must have been as blind as a beetle not to see the possible prototype of Joseph Curwen, who ''fastened upon...[his] double and descendant'', save that it is possible that Dudley is Jervas Hyde. 


I am glad that my own notes, which are rather intended to be consulted beside the text, or even as footnotes if I was mad enough to attempt a privately printed annotated edition, though I believe Penguin has beaten me to fully annotate H.P.L. ,are of use.


I lack the ability to render the keen impressions -- down to the feel of cold stone, the smell of old books (like Jervas Dudley and H.P.L. I am an unapologetic burrower in old books and they are to me a sensory as well as an intellectual delight), the mouldy crypt-air and many I cannot hint at -- that I obtain from ''The Tomb'' (or any other piece by H.P.L., or any other writer who possesses the same evocative power) into words and am very pleased others exist who can render theirs.

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