A 200-year-old vampire has been found in a University of Queensland library. And it’s a Halloween story that you can really sink your teeth into!
UQ’s Fryer Librarian Simon Farley said while doing a recent routine appraisal of the rare book collection, library staff chanced upon a first edition of a book from 1819.
“This book caught their eye because the title was stamped in gilt on the spine,” he said.
“It was bound together with other early 19th century works, and a bit of research established the significance and rarity of the book.”
What they had found was a rare first edition of John Polidori’s The Vampyre.
“While Polidori’s story is not very well-known today, it is the first vampire story in the English language and 80 years after it was published it inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula,” Mr Farley said.
The tale of how this book was written and how it came to be in a university library in Brisbane more than 200 years later is the perfect Halloween ghost story.
In 1816, the English poet Lord Byron rented the Villa Diodati near Geneva in Switzerland.
Staying with him were literary royalty – fellow poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Godwin (who were soon to be married), as well as Byron’s personal physician, John Polidori.
“The weather was foul, and the group stayed indoors reading ghost stories to each other,” Mr Farley said.
“They were so inspired by these stories that they decided to write their own – with astonishing results.
“Byron produced the little-known Fragment of a Novel; Mary Shelley wrote the literary masterpiece Frankenstein and Polidori wrote The Vampyre.”
When it first appeared in print, Bryon was falsely credited as the author.
“The title page stated that it was ‘A Tale by Lord Byron’ but when Polidori protested, Byron’s name was removed from subsequent issues of the first edition,” Mr Farley said.
“We have the rare second issue of the first edition, without Byron’s name on the title page.”
What makes the Fryer Library copy even more interesting is that there are old notes scribbled on the title page.
“The Fryer Library’s copy of The Vampyre carries notes that state: ‘By Polidori’ and ‘The idea only is Byron’s’,” Mr Farley said.
“These notes were written by the book’s previous owner, Mary Anne Ricketts who had connections to the English aristocracy, and we believe, through these connections she found out about the true authorship of the book.”
Mr Farley said it remains unclear how the book made it into a university library on the other side of the world hundreds of years later.
“Mary Anne Ricketts was a cousin of the explorer Charles Sturt, who came to Australia in 1827,” he said.
“There is a possibility that he may have been given the book and that he brought it to Australia, but we don’t know for sure.
“The library’s rare book collection has grown organically over the years and many books have come to the library as donations.
“So unfortunately, the explanation of how this particular book came to be in the library is lost in the mists of time.”
Mr Farley said the book is in very good condition and is quite valuable.
“The binding needs some attention as the inside of the front hinge is split open, but the condition of the printed pages is very good,” he said.
“In the early 19th century paper was still made from rags rather than wood-pulp and is therefore usually of a high quality and very durable.
“A similar edition sold in the UK recently for about $15,000.”
The Vampyre is held in the rare book collections of the Fryer Library and is stored in a climate-controlled repository.
Image above left: The Fryer Library’s copy of The Vampyre with handwritten annotations.
Image above right: The title page of The Vampyre in the Fryer Library.