The Black Vampyre by Uriah Derick D’Arcy

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The Black Vampyre was written in response to Polidori’s Vampyre. The edition I read contained a fascinating introduction which provided context for the story and numerous footnotes which explain the now-obscure references in the story.

The Black Vampyre was written anonymously, attributed to one Uriah Derick D’Arcy (this is an anagram of Richard Varick Dey, who may have been the actual author). Like Polidori, the author quotes lines about vampires from Byron’s “The Giaour” which compared Greece being subject to the Ottoman Empire to slavery. D’Arcy takes up this theme, applying it to African slaves in America.

There was a big anti-slavery movement in New York throughout the 1810s when this was written. Haiti (referred to as St. Domingo at the time), had successfully won its independence, and works about Haiti were popular at the time.

D’Arcy drew upon a history of the West Indies which discussed obeah, a group of creole religious and medical practices. In response to the Panic of 1819, one of the worst recessions of the time, the author denounces financial criminals as being the real vampires, but stops short of condemning slavery.

The author calls the work simple, stupid, nonsense in his own introduction, justifiably setting low expectations. No wonder he chose to remain anonymous.

In the story itself, Anthony Gibbons is the only slave to survive passage to Haiti on his ship. He’s bought by Mr. Personne who thinks to put him out of his misery by knocking out his brains and throwing him in the ocean. But the tide brings him back. The 10-year-old cannot seem to die.

Later, a prince (presumably an adult Gibbons) appears with a white orphan boy named Zembo, seeking to seduce Mr. Personne’s widow Euphemia. He becomes her fourth husband (she had buried three husbands by this time) then turns her into a vampire. Her previous three husbands rise from their graves and fight over her.

I’ve got say, this is more gruesome than Polidori’s Vampyre, and also quite a bit sillier. It’s basically the 1819 equivalent of a bad episode of What We Do in the Shadows. I can’t recommend anyone read this for the story itself.

However, the cool thing about reading old stories like this is the old-fashioned vocabulary. A few words I liked include: ignaqueous (able to live in both fire and water), squizzed (a word that might mean squeezed), tumuli (a mound covering a grave), cicatrized (healed over with scar tissue), facer (a punch to the face), to speak catachrestically (to misuse imagery or description), esculent (edible), bibliopost (bookseller), “gutting the fobs” (pick-pocketing), and “cayenne bath” (a punishment inflicted on slaves in Haiti administered after a beating. It involved a blend of lemon juice, salt, and cayenne. Yikes.)

There’s also cool details like wooden toys weighted at the bottom with lead that stands up again when tipped. I didn’t know Brother Jonathan was a precursor to Uncle Sam. I also enjoyed this description of someone wounding another: “Mr. DuBois soon brought claret from Mr. Marquand.”

The author provides a moral to the story at the end, accusing dandies, frauds, corrupted clerks, plagiarists, critics, etc. of being vampyres. The author even accuses himself! However, he leaves slave holders off the list, making me think the author wasn’t as anti-slavery as the introduction makes it seem.

Overall, The Black Vampyre is a poorly-written story, but the history behind it is interesting.

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