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Spirit apparitions, vampire attacks and other otherworldly happenings

By Joan Milligan

In honor of Halloween, I went looking in the Rare Books Collection for stories of strange creatures or magic spells. I was in luck. I found a 250-year-old book on spirit apparitions, vampire attacks and other supernatural happenings. Augustin Calmet, a Benedictine monk living in the 18th century, decided to re-examine cases of inexplicable events to determine their legitimacy. His book Dissertations sur les apparitions des anges, des demons & des ésprits was quickly translated into other languages and widely read. Events in the book appeared in Sheridan Le Fanu’s novella Carmilla, which in turn inspired Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula

Translated to English, the title of the tome is Treatise on the Apparitions of Spirits and on Vampires or Revenants of Hungary, Moravia, et al. Ours is a German translation published in 1752. The blackletter type of this edition seems a great fit for the subject matter.

Some chapter titles (in English from Open Library):

  • Angelic and demonic intervention
  • Some other examples of elves
  • Spirits that keep watch over treasure
  • Specters which appear and predict things unknown and to come
  • Can a man who is really dead appear in his own body?
  • Revival or apparition of a girl who had been dead some months
  • Dead persons in Hungary who suck the blood of the living
  • Instances of devoting or dooming amongst Christians
  • Instances of persons who have promised to give each other news of the other world after their death
This book in the libraries’ catalog

Calmet, Augustin, 1672-1757. Gelehrte Verhandlung der Materi, von Erscheinungen der Geistern, und denen Vampiren in Ungarn, Mahren, &c. Augspurg: M. Rieger, 1752.

Harvard’s French edition online

Calmet, Augustin, 1672-1757. Dissertations sur les apparitions des anges, des démons & des esprits et sur les revenans et vampires de Hongrie, de Boheme, de Moravie & de Silesie … Paris: Chez de Bure l'ainé, 1746.

Photo Captions

Photo of page: Here, author Calmet relates one of the earliest stories of vampires, that of “Petro Plogoiowiss” (more commonly called Petar Blagojevich), a Serb who died in 1725. Within the next eight days, nine more people in the village, young and old, died. As they lay dying, all claimed that Blagojevich had throttled them during the night.

Detail: A close-up image of the word "Vampiren" on page.

Portrait: Antoine Augustin Calmet, O.S.B. (1672 –1757)

— Joan Milligan is a special collections cataloger; photos by Ryan O’Grady, digital projects manager

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