THE NECROMANCER
OR
THE TALE OF THE BLACK FOREST (1794)

PETER TEUTHOLD (trans.)


The Necromancer was printed for William Lane at the Minerva Press ‘translated from the German of Lawrence Flammenberg’. Montague Summers identified the source as Der Geisterbanner, eine Wundergeschichte aus mündlichen und schriftlichen Traditionen gesammelt (1792), by Karl Friedrick Kahlert using the pseudonym Lorenz Flammenberg. However, like all ‘translators’ of German Gothic tales, Peter Teuthold seems to have handled his material very freely. It is one of the ‘horrid’ novels listed in Austen’s Northanger Abbey. The ‘icy fangs of horror’ are its raison d’êum;tre.

(Copyright 2000, 2013 Rictor Norton)


At ten o’clock we stole silently to the castle without a light, the Lieutenant’s servant lighted our lamp in the court-yard, and we went to the hall, where we had spent the first night, waiting with impatience for the last quarter before midnight. The Lieutenant did not believe the old man would be as good as his word, I joyfully seconded his opinion, and would have been glad if we had not waited for him; but the Baron, who, from his juvenile days, had been fond of every thing bearing the aspect of mysteriousness, was quite charmed with the reverend appearance of the old man, and maintained, upon his honor, that he certainly would stick to his appointment.
          The Lieutenant began to discourse with the Baron on apparitions and necromancers, maintaining by experience and reasoning, that all was either deceit or the effects of a deluded fancy; yet the Baron would not relinquish his opinion, adding, that one ought not to speak lightly of those matters, and that the old man certainly would prove the truth of his assertion: We were still conjecturing who that strange wanderer might be, when we saw by our watches, that there were but sixteen minutes wanting to twelve; as soon as it was three quarters after eleven, we heard the sound of gentle steps in the passage.
          ‘Our greybeard,’ said the Lieutenant, ‘is a man of honor,’ and took up the lamp to meet the old man.
          Now he entered the hall, his black wallet on his back, and beckoned in a solemn manner to follow him. We did so, and he led us through the apartments and the vaulted passage down stairs: We followed him thro’ the court-yard to the iron gate of the cellar, without uttering a word; there he stopped, turning towards us, and eyeing us awhile, with a ghastly look; after an awful pause of expectation, he said with a low trembling voice, ‘Don’t utter a word as you value your lives.’ Then he went down the two first steps, taking from his bosom an enormous key, which had been suspended round his neck by an iron chain, and opened, without the least difficulty, the monstrous padlock, the door flew open, and the old man took the lamp from the Lieutenant, leading us down a large staircase of stone; we descended into a spacious cellar, vaulted with hewn stone, and beheld all around large iron doors, secured by strong padlocks; our hoary leader went slowly towards an iron folding door, opposite to the staircase, and opened it likewise with his key; it flew suddenly open, and we beheld with horror a black vault, which received a faint light from a lamp suspended to the ceiling by an iron chain.
          The old man entered, uncovering his reverend head, and we did the same, standing by his side in trembling expectation, awed by the solemnity that reigned around us; a dreadful chillness seized us, we felt the grasp of the icy fangs of horror, being in a burying vault surrounded with rotten coffins: Skulls and mouldered bones rattled beneath our feet, the grisly phantom of death stared in our faces from every side, with a grim ghastly aspect. In the centre of the vault we beheld a black marble coffin, supported by a pedestal of stone, over it was suspended to the ceiling a lamp spreading a dismal dying glimmering around. The air was heavy and of a musty smell, we hardly could respire, the objects around seemed to be wrapped in a bluish mist. The hollow sound of our footsteps re-echoed through the dreary abode of horror as we walked nigher.
          The old man stopped at a small distance from the marble coffin, beckoning to us to come nigher; we moved slowly on, and he made a sign not to advance farther than he could reach with extended arms. The Lieutenant placed himself at his right, I took my station at his left, and the Baron opposite him.
          Now he put the lamp on the ground before him, taking his book, an ebony wand, and a box of white plate, out of his wallet: – Out of the latter he strewed a reddish sand around him, drew a circle with his wand, and folded his hands across his breast, then he pronounced amid terrible convulsions, some mysterious words, opened the book and began to read, whilst his face was distorted in a grisly manner; his convulsions grew more horrible as he went on reading; all his limbs seemed to be contracted by a convulsive fit. His eyebrows shrunk up, his forehead was covered with wrinkles, and large drops of sweat were running down his cheeks – at once he threw down his book, gazing with a staring look, and his hands lifted up at the marble coffin.
          We soon perceived that midnight had set in; the trampling of horses and the sound of horns was heard; the Necromancer did not move a limb, still staring at the coffin with a haggard look. Now the noise was on the staircase of the cellar and still he was motionless, his eyes being immoveably directed towards the coffin: But now the noise was in the cellar; he brandished his wand, and all around was buried in awful silence. He pronounced again three times an unintelligible word with a horrible thundering voice. A flash of lightning hissed suddenly through the dreary vault, licking the damp walls, and a hollow clap of thunder roared through the subterraneous abode of chilly horror. The light in the lamp was now extinguished, silence and darkness swayed all around; soon after we heard a gentle rustling just before us, and a faint glimmering was spreading through the gloomy vault. It grew lighter and lighter, and we soon perceived rays of dazzling light shooting from the marble coffin, the lid of which began to rise higher and higher – at once the whole vault was illuminated, and a grisly human figure rose slow and awful from the coffin. The phantom, which was wrapped up in a shroud, bore a dying aspect, it trembled violently as it rose, and emitted an hollow groan, looking around with chilly horror. Now the spectre descended from the pedestal, and moved with trembling steps and haggard looks towards the circle where we were standing.
          ‘Who dares,’ groaned it, in a faltering hollow accent, ‘who dares to disturb the rest of the dead.’
          ‘And who art thou?’ replied our leader, with a threatening frowning aspect, ‘who art thou, that thou darest to disturb the stillness of this castle, and the nocturnal slumber of those that inhabit its environs?’
          The phantom shuddered back, groaning in a most lamentable accent, ‘Not I, not I, my cursed husband disturbs the peace around and mine.’
          Old man. ‘For what reason?’
          Ghost. ‘I have been assassinated, and he who judges men has thrown my sins upon the murderer.’
          Old man. ‘I comprehend thee, unhappy spirit, betake thyself again to rest; by my power, which every spirit dreads, he shall disturb thee no more – be gone.’
          The phantom bowed respectfully, staggered towards the pedestal, climbed up, got into the coffin, and disappeared; the lid sunk slowly down, and the light which had illuminated the dismal mansion of mortality died away by degrees. A flash of lightning hissed again through the vault, licking the damp walls; the hollow sound of thunder roared through the subterraneous abode of horror; the lamp began again to burn, and awful silence of the grave swayed all around.


[SOURCE: The Necromancer: or The Tale of the Black Forest. Translated from the German of Lawrence Flammenberg, by Peter Teuthold. 2 vols. (London: William Lane, at the Minerva-Press, 1794), vol. 1, pp. 86–94]


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