Ghosts & Scholars
M.R. James

Issue 3 (January 2003): Part One.

The Ghosts & Scholars M.R. James Newsletter is published two or three times a year at irregular intervals. Click here for further information on how to buy the full hard-copy edition. Contributions are welcome - click here for Guidelines.

Editor: Rosemary Pardoe (e-mail); Assistant Editors: David Rowlands and Steve Duffy.

Copyright © 2003 Rosemary Pardoe. All rights retained by the contributors. All unassigned material by Rosemary Pardoe. Not to be reproduced without the permission of the authors/artists.


(Unlinked contents can only be read in the hard-copy edition of the Newsletter)

"Editorial" by Rosemary Pardoe

"Ghost Stories" by M.R. James

"M.R. James, Antiquarian Sleuth: William of Norwich, Thomas of Monmouth and the Blood Libel" by Steve Duffy

"'A Wonderful Book': George MacDonald and 'The Ash-Tree'" by Rosemary Pardoe

"'The Experiment': Story Notes"


"Reviews" (in Part Two): M.R. James' A Warning to the Curious (BFI); Casting the Runes and Other Ghost Stories by M.R. James (OUP, USA); Great Lives: M.R. James, BBC Radio 4; Schalken the Painter and Others: Ghost Stories 1838-61 by J.S. Le Fanu (Ash-Tree Press)

"Jamesian Notes & Queries" ("M.R. James: The Final Solution?" by E.S. Merganser; "More on Mephistopheles" by Mike Pincombe; "Bain" by Rosemary Pardoe; "Queries")

Artwork: Alan Hunter ("The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance"); (web site edition only) F.E. Mackie (picture caption - in Part Two)


In my editorial last issue I asked for your thoughts on the possible formation of an M.R. James Society, which I saw as the best way to encourage the involvement of those people whose primary interest in MRJ is not in his ghost stories, but in other aspects of his work. My idea was to open coverage out to "all the odd mythological, folkloric, ecclesiological, demonological and angelological by-ways MRJ explored from time to time", but without ranging too far away from the ghost stories' subject matter. I couldn't (and still can't) think of any other way of reaching this new audience (and, hopefully, new bunch of potential contributors!). The response so far to my idea has been overwhelmingly positive. I haven't kept a running total of the number of votes I've received in favour, but it must be several dozen. There have been no votes against (doubtless there will be now I've said this!), although one or two folk wrote in with dire (and not unjustified!) warnings about the work involved and the horrors of the thankless task of running a Society. In fact, my basic plan is that the Newsletter will be the Society, so there will be very little extra effort involved for me (except in that I would have to commit to a set publication timetable, rather than the flexibility of the Newsletter schedule at present). In the event of any members wanting to take responsibility for other projects such as conventions, meetings, competitions, etc., that would be up to them - they would have my full support so long as I didn't have to do the work!

I have a history of forming or helping to form Societies, including co-founding both the Ghost Story Society and the British Fantasy Society, as well as starting the Everlasting Club Ghost Story APA. Before all of those - over thirty years ago - I was in at the start of the Tolkien Society (well, not quite the start, but I did co-edit the first issue of their journal). I'm happy to see that these organisations are all still thriving. So I have enough experience not to want to do it again, some might say! But I envisage an M.R. James Society as being slightly different and rather smaller scale than all of those (the Everlasting Club, with its membership number limits, excepted). It's something I and the Newsletter's two faithful assistant editors could easily run ourselves.

I've made it sound as though I've definitely decided to start such a Society, which is not quite true. But this is your final chance to get your objections in, or suggestions for alternative means to achieve the same ends. The decision will be announced next issue, and if the Society does start, it'll be towards the end of this year (with existing Newsletter subs being converted into membership subscriptions).

Moving on (at last!) to this issue of the Newsletter, we start with a scoop: a minor but very interesting little ghost story item by MRJ himself. Following this is a fine article by Steve Duffy about one of the aforementioned non-ghost story areas of MRJ's researches. It's the sort of thing I want more of. You'll find plenty of controversy elsewhere in the Newsletter's pages; and I strongly urge even those of you who are not keen on annotations to read the set of notes for "The Experiment". They contain at least one major new discovery about this problem tale.

Now that the Newsletter has increased to forty pages, and is likely to remain around this size in the future, I've decided it's no longer going to be possible to include all the contents from the hard-copy on the web site. Some of the main articles and the reviews will go on the site soon after hard-copy publication (and the web site "News" section is, of course, updated at frequent intervals), but other articles, "Jamesian Notes & Queries", and the "Letters" will be for readers of the printed edition only (still with a maximum two-hundred copy run). It's a change I would have to make anyway if the Newsletter becomes the publication of the M.R. James Society, so I may just be bringing that day forward a little. When I originally formulated my plans for a web and hard-copy Newsletter I didn't expect any issue to exceed a couple of dozen pages, so it's a victim of its own success in a way - a very good way!

Don't forget that, as always, the Newsletter needs articles, long and short, on M.R. James, his supernatural fiction (with anything amongst his non-fiction which is loosely related to the subject), and his ghost story writing friends or associates; also queries, letters for the lettercolumn, addenda to the annotations, artwork and relevant reviews. Guidelines sheets are available on request, and on the web site.

Rosemary Pardoe, January 2003

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M.R. James, Antiquarian Sleuth

William of Norwich, Thomas of Monmouth
and the Blood Libel

by Steve Duffy

In 1896 M.R. James, in collaboration with his friend and colleague Augustus Jessopp, published the first translation of Thomas of Monmouth's 12th-century The Life and Miracles of St William of Norwich, the manuscript of which was discovered by MRJ in Brent Eleigh (Suffolk). The text was annotated and introduced by MRJ and Jessopp, and it is on one section of the seven-chapter Introduction that I propose to dwell; namely, MRJ's "Chapter VI: The Legend". This deals extensively with the most notorious aspect of the William of Norwich legend: the accusation of ritual murder made against the Jews of Norwich, which was to form the basis for "one of the most notable and disastrous lies of history" - the 'blood libel'.

Readers unfamiliar with the circumstances surrounding the martyrdom of William of Norwich may appreciate a summary of the case, before we go on to consider MRJ's analysis of the issues arising. I have tried to keep this presentation of the background as succinct as possible, while including everything that may be considered of relevance: there is an undeniable academic appeal, rather like that of a detective story, in the unfolding of the tale, and this is doubtless one of the factors which appealed to MRJ![1]

The Martyrdom of St William

On Holy Saturday, March 25, 1144, the body of a young boy was found in Thorpe Wood, a lonely area of heathland outside the city of Norwich. The body, which showed signs of a violent death, was recognised as that of William, a 12-year-old tanner's apprentice, who with his master had been in the habit of frequenting certain houses in the Jewish quarter. William's uncle, the priest Godwin Sturt, identified the body and read over it the Office of Burial before interring it in situ. A few days later the diocesan synod, headed by Bishop Eborard, heard a formal accusation of ritual murder against the Jews of Norwich, made by Godwin, who offered to prove his case by ordeal. The Sheriff of Norwich, John de Caineto, pointed out that the Jews, being the "king's men" and under his own protection, did not fall under the jurisdiction of the Bishop or his synod. Sheriff John's intervention forestalled any action, official or mob-related, against the Jews, and the only immediate result of Godwin Sturt's accusation was the removal of the body from its rough grave in the woods to the monks' cemetery in the Cathedral-Priory precinct.

Over the next five years the cult of William failed to achieve any wide popularity, despite the attribution of several 'miracles' to William's intervention. However, the murder of the Jew Eleazar by the followers of Sir Simon de Novers (a debtor of Eleazar's) in 1149 resurrected the local rumours of Jewish complicity in the death of the young boy. When the Jews demanded that action be taken against the ringleader of Eleazar's murderers, Bishop Turbe,[2] acting for the accused, brought up the murder of William, five years earlier, as a counter-charge, alleging Eleazar's direct complicity in the deed. King Stephen came to Norwich to hear the case in person, only to pronounce it postponed indefinitely: Thomas of Monmouth attributes this decision to the payment by the Jews of a large sum of money to the Crown.

Thomas was a monk of the Cathedral Priory of Norwich, who became directly involved in the case of William from this point onwards. Our sole source in the matter, he condensed the hearsay current around the precincts of the Cathedral into the first two books of The Life and Miracles of St William of Norwich (c.1172-3). He has been called "a man of unlimited credulity even beyond his contemporaries, but probably more deceived, though perhaps by himself, than a deceiver".[3] However, MRJ's colleague Dr Jessopp takes a less charitable view, characterising Thomas as belonging to the class of those who are both "deceivers and being deceived".[4] Thomas's role, as chief chronicler of William and primary source, is deserving of particular critical attention: the principle of cui bono should, one feels, be held in mind throughout his subsequent narrative.

During the course of Lent 1150, Thomas reported three visions in which Herbert of Losinga, founder of Norwich Cathedral, appeared to him and ordered the translation of William's body from the monastic cemetery to the Cathedral chapter-house. Richard de Ferrariis, the newly-installed prior, gave permission for the translation in July 1151, and also authorised a fresh move, three years later, to an apsidal chapel within the Cathedral itself. Once William's much-travelled bones were installed in the chapel, the cultus grew in popularity, and various miracles and visions were reported.

Working backwards from hearsay and rumour, and drawing on interviews with various selected witnesses, real or imaginary, Thomas set forth the following reconstruction of the death of William. The boy, he said, had been given to visiting houses in Norwich's Jewish quarter, south-west of the Castle Mound, despite being told by friends and family to stay away. On the Tuesday of Holy Week, he was seen entering a house in the Jewish quarter along with another man, an unknown messenger purporting to offer him a place in the Archdeacon's kitchens.[5] This seems to have been the last sighting of William alive. The Jews of Norwich, according to Thomas, had been chosen by the drawing of lots to carry out a ritual killing, explicitly mocking the crucifixion of Jesus: this Passover (Pesach) slaughter was said by Thomas's informant (about whom more later) to be an act of magical significance, meant to further the Jews' delivery from bondage and eventual return to Palestine.[6] In 1144 the lot had fallen to the Jews of Norwich: they "had planned to do this very thing with some Christian, and in order to carry out their malignant purpose, at the beginning of Lent they had made choice of the boy William, being twelve years of age and a boy of unusual innocence."[7] This extraordinary statement, "the most telling piece of evidence and the most disastrous in its consequences"[8] was given to Thomas by a converted Jew, Theobald of Cambridge, who had taken holy orders as a monk. His role in the affair will grow in significance as we come to review MRJ's analysis of the evidence.

The Jews, said Thomas, held a service in their synagogue before carrying out the ritual slaughter. Falling upon the unsuspecting William, they gagged him, bound him, and carried him to the house of the Jew Eleazar.[9] There the torture continued in a manner specifically parodic of Christ's Passion:

"Having shaved his head, they stabbed it with countless thorn-points, and made the blood come horribly from the wounds they made... they next... fastened him upon the cross, [and] vied with one another in their efforts to make an end of him... [And] lo! after all these many and great tortures, they inflicted a frightful wound in his left side, reaching even to his inmost heart, and as though to make an end of all they extinguished his mortal life so far as it was in their power. And since many streams of blood were running down from all parts of his body, then, to stop the blood and to wash and close the wounds, they poured boiling water over him."[10]

For this grisly scenario Thomas adduces the evidence of a Christian woman, servant to Eleazar, who claimed to have caught sight through a crack in a door of a boy fastened to a post, as she was bringing some hot water at her master's order - the boiling water, perhaps, with which the body was posthumously scalded. After the service, she claimed to have found a boy's belt in the room; several years later, when Thomas was preparing his account, she was able to point out certain "marks of the martyrdom" still visible in the room - namely, some nail-holes in a wooden beam. The various wounds - scratches of thorns, binding at the wrists and ankles, the fatal wound to the side - were all attested to when the body was washed prior to its interment in the monks' cemetery.

On Good Friday, Eleazar and another were said to have carried the corpse in a sack up to Thorpe Wood for disposal; they were met on the way by a certain Aelward Ded, who discovered the contents of the sack. The Jews, according to Thomas, subsequently bribed Sheriff John de Caineto to extract an oath of secrecy from Aelward: so great an impression must the Sheriff have made that it was fully three years after John's death that Aelward, now on his own death-bed, broke his silence.[11] Later that same Good Friday evening, a great light was seen in the sky over Thorpe Wood, pointing to where William's body lay. On Holy Saturday the body was found, and the nature of its wounds were said (again, by Thomas - it is impossible to overemphasise the wholly partial nature of all the evidence in the case) to have immediately cast suspicion on the Jews. Portions of the mob became restless, and when Bishop Eborard's diocesan synod heard Godwin Sturt's accusation of ritual murder, it was probably only Sheriff John de Caineto's formidable local reputation which prevented riot and pogrom breaking out in the streets of the Jewish quarter. Meanwhile William's body in its woodland grave was already emitting the 'odour of sanctity', and the train of events which would lead to his canonisation was well under way. Parallel to this blessed procession, though, another tradition - more malicious, more insidious, and incomparably more harmful - was also gathering momentum. For the story of William's martyrdom in the Norwich Jewry marks the first instance in Europe of the blood libel: that baseless and repulsive allegation which was to contribute so materially to the suffering of the Jews of the Diaspora.

MRJ's Analysis of the Case

MRJ's Chapter VI ("The Legend") is given over to an examination of the blood libel as presented in the case of William of Norwich. MRJ asks three pertinent questions: "What suggested the notion? What is the truth of the story which Thomas tells? How did the story develop in the period immediately following its publication?"

He begins, like most other students of the blood libel,[12] by quoting a passage of the 5th-century Church historian Socrates concerning certain events occurring around the year 415 (NB: all the following quotations, unless otherwise attributed, are from MRJ's "The Legend"):

"At Inmestar, a place so-called, which lies between Chalcis and Antioch in Syria, the Jews were in the habit of celebrating certain sports among themselves: and, whereas they habitually did many foolish actions in the course of their sports, they were put beyond themselves (on this occasion) by drunkenness, and began deriding Christians and even Christ himself in their games. They derided the Cross and those who hoped in the Crucified, and they hit upon this plan. They took a Christian child and bound him to a cross and hung him up; and to begin with they mocked and derided him for some time; but after a short space they lost control of themselves, and so ill-treated the child that they killed him."

This, insists MRJ, is clearly not a case of ritual slaughter: "It began in rough horse-play and ended, seemingly owing to the drunkenness of the Jews, in actual violence, which had not been contemplated by the perpetrators." Interestingly, MRJ suggests a possible link between the "sports" of the Jews of Inmestar and the Jewish festival of Purim, noted for its joyous and unrestricted nature when compared with the major religious festivals. At Purim, plays are often performed depicting the hanging of Haman, Ahasuerus' chief minister; Haman is occasionally linked in first-millennium (CE) Judaic tradition with Jesus, and MRJ's hypothesis that the child at Inmestar may have been jointly representative of both Haman and Jesus is in fact pre-dated by a similar speculation on the part of Graetz, in his Geschichte des Judenthum.

MRJ goes on to cite Evagrius[13] and Gregory of Tours[14], both of whom mention the story of a 6th-century Jewish glass-maker of Constantinople who cast his son into the furnace (from whence he was delivered by the Virgin Mary) for receiving the Eucharist. James sees in this only a mildly suggestive parallel with events in 12th-century Norwich: "It is merely as a tale of Jewish cruelty shewn upon a child for anti-Christian reasons that the story has anything in common with ours." He makes the interesting point, though, that some medieval scholars, in retelling the tale, switched the scene of the incident from Constantinople to mainland Europe - paving the way for a specifically European location for the later blood libel?

There follows, notes MRJ, a gap of some five hundred years' duration in the historical record, in which no more mention is made of Jewish ritual murder. After William of Norwich, though, we encounter a rash of similar allegations, and the blood libel motif is firmly embedded in the popular belief of the day. James therefore deems it "all-important to investigate the story which seems to have given new life, if not birth, to so appalling and destructive a myth. What is the evidence for the life and death of St William of Norwich?"

That William actually existed, MRJ is entirely satisfied. Discounting the various posthumous attributions of miracles, etc., James presents as complete a history of the brief life of the 12-year-old boy as might be hoped for: the circumstances of his birth, family details, an account of his childhood and eventual apprenticeship to a skinner in Norwich. By the time we reach the days leading up to William's disappearance, in the company of the mysterious messenger mentioned above, James is following the narrative as closely as any armchair detective:

"William calls on his mother in company with a man who describes himself as the cook of William, archdeacon of Norwich, and offers the boy a place in the archidiaconal kitchen, on condition that he should have his services at once. Some unwillingness on the part of the mother is overcome by a small payment, and the boy returns to Norwich in company with the man... The supposed traitor calls next day with William upon Liviva the aunt in Norwich, and tells her of the arrangement he has made for the boy. This seems an unnecessary proceeding for a man who would naturally be anxious to avoid attracting notice. However, they leave the house, and the aunt tells her daughter to follow them and see where they go. She watches them into a Jew's house, and sees the door shut, and William is never seen alive again. The girl returns home and tells her mother what she has seen..."

As can be observed from this passage, James examines the narrative critically, yet in a wonderfully accessible manner, with a keen eye for detail and a sharp ear for what rings false.

As we have already noted, from the time of William's disappearance onwards the only available testimony is that set forth in Thomas's account. MRJ reviews the evidence concerning William's kidnapping, his torture and eventual death with almost forensic exactitude: "when the body was washed in the Cathedral on the 24th of April (more than a month after the death) the monks are said to have found thorn points in the skin of the head, 'traces of the martyrdom' in the hands, feet, and side, and 'indications' that boiling water had been poured over the body. What these indications were - unless, perhaps, a bloated state of the skin, not surprising in a corpse a month old - it is difficult to say. The actual evidence of the martyrdom in the Jew's house reduces itself to the momentary glimpse which the maid-servant caught with one eye of a boy tied to a post, and to the existence of a couple of nail-holes in a post seen some years afterwards." That last point in particular, exquisite in its delicate understatement, may give us an idea of the value attached by James to this particular portion of Thomas's account.

By now our antiquarian sleuth is warming to the chase. "And even this evidence, be it noted, was not produced until the view that the Jews had done the deed had been for some time in circulation. The servant does not come forward when Liviva and the mob are ranging about the streets and threatening an outbreak. It is seemingly not until Thomas has conceived the project of writing the life of St William that any attempt is made to ascertain the precise place and manner of the murder. True it is that Godwin in his speech to the Synod refers to the well-known practice of the Jews in Passover week: but Thomas in one case gives us speeches which are avowedly imaginary, and Godwin's words are highly Thomian in style. At present, the evidence for a ritual murder is simply nil." This is unambiguous stuff - James is not only calling into question the value of the servant's evidence, but giving the clearest possible hints that he considers said evidence to have been manufactured to fit Thomas's agenda: the establishment of a cultus of William, the innocent boy-martyr.

However, James is careful not to let his growing suspicions influence his appraisal of the evidence. In discussing the reported actions of the Jews after the murder, he has this to say:

"The Maundy Thursday was spent by the Jews in deliberation as to what they should do with the body. Thomas's knowledge of this was derived from 'one of them,' meaning, I have no doubt, Theobald of Cambridge - of whom more anon. And here there is a trifle more plausibility about the story. For if the Jews had contemplated murder from the first they would surely have made their preparations for disposing of the body: but supposing some rough pranks, such as those at Inmestar, had accidentally ended in the death of the boy whom they had only meant to make a butt of, it is intelligible that a council of the kind described should have been held. Theobald is not a first-rate witness, I will allow; but the hypothesis of an accidental death deserves to be considered."

As always, James is "prepared to consider evidence and accept it if it satisfies me".[15]

MRJ goes on to recount the circumstances surrounding the disposal of the body in Thorpe Wood, casting in passing subtle aspersions on the notion that the witness Aelward Ded was bought off by the conspirators. He describes, with his customary relish for what would nowadays be termed Fortean events, the light in the sky, that led the witnesses to the body; typical too is his care in setting the scene for the gruesome discovery: "On the following morning... Legarda [a witness of the celestial lights, from the nearby hospital of St Mary Magdalene] set out to see what it meant. What she found was this. The body of a boy lying under an oak tree (not hanging up - but this is not a real difficulty), fully clothed, with shaven head, and marks of thorns on the scalp. Besides this there were two crows which were unsuccessfully attempting to eat the body, and kept falling down." The detail of the crows may be considered recognisably Jamesian: also this, from the Easter Monday, when William's body had been interred for the first time on the spot where it was found: "...some of William's boy-friends had said that the body in Thorpe Wood was that of William, who used to visit the Jews so often. His uncle Godwin Sturt heard this, and set out for the grave with his son Alexander, and Robert, William's (elder?) brother. They opened the grave, and when they got near the body, the earth was twice seen to move and stir, suggesting to them, as it does to us, that all this time the unfortunate boy was not really dead at all. When the body was uncovered, the family recognised it as William's, and, after due expression of their sorrow, recited the proper offices, and covered in the grave again." (My emphases.) Could poor William in fact have been buried alive? We shudder, as James no doubt intends us to.

In the days immediately following the discovery of the body, Godwin Sturt's wife broke silence with news of a dream she claimed to have had, the Saturday before the murder, warning her of the Jews: this revelation is widely broadcast in Norwich. Elviva, William's mother, who arrived on the scene at about the same time, was also instrumental in spreading anti-Jewish sentiment among the hoi polloi. Godwin now emerges as a prime mover in the growing case against the Jews: having, as MRJ puts it, "settled his plan of action", he waited until the Synod, at which he made his formal accusation of ritual murder against the Jews of Norwich. The secular dean summoned the accused to appear before the Synod: they appealed to the Sheriff, John de Caineto, who was quick to remind the Bishop that the Synod held no jurisdiction over the Jews. A second and third summons were ignored: the Synod dissolved, and a message was sent to the Sheriff threatening a peremptory sentence against the Jews. This MRJ takes to mean a verdict passed without benefit of trial: "a license to the mob to devastate the Jewry." Only the formidable John - who emerges from this saga with all the iconic charisma of the archetypal duster-coated Western frontier Sheriff - now stood between the Jews and their foes: on the one hand, the Synod, on the other, the mob.[16] He chose to appear alongside the Jews before the Bishop, and again asserted their rights as "king's men". Godwin repeated his accusation; the Jews pleaded not guilty and sought respite. This was denied, and John brought the Jews within the shelter of the Castle Fee that same evening, to forestall the very real threat of bloodshed.

Here James breaks off from his chronological summary of events, and reviews Thomas's case against the Jews. This case rests on seven arguments: it is fair to say that MRJ is impressed by none of them, particularly. For instance, he returns to the evidence of the servant-woman, sole witness to the torture and murder of William: "This I have set forth, and no one can describe it as convincing." He is similarly unconvinced by the allegations of bribery made against the Jews, ostensibly in the furtherance of a cover-up: " may be true. But it may only mean that the Jews were afraid of the disturbance likely to be excited by the trial, and not that they acknowledged themselves guilty. The fourth argument [in Thomas's list of seven] is of exactly the same kind: namely, that the Jews tried to bribe Bishop Turbe, on the occasion of the trial of Sir Simon de Novers before Stephen, to drop the counter-charge against themselves. It was not a prudent step to take, if they took it, but it does not nearly amount to a confession of guilt." (My emphasis.)

The fifth of Thomas's arguments seems to MRJ the most sensational of all. This is the bizarre allegation made by Theobald, the converted Jew, now a monk (most probably of the Norwich Priory): "that the Jews had a written tradition that in order to regain their freedom and their fatherland they must sacrifice a Christian every year." Once again, James is anything but convinced: "If this is a lie - and we are assured that it is by those who have studied the subject - it is one of the most notable and disastrous lies of history; and we must look upon Theobald of Cambridge, as responsible for the blood of thousands of his fellow-countrymen."

Having dealt harshly with Thomas's seven arguments, MRJ picks fastidiously over the bones:

"In which of all this mass of assertions may we reasonably put confidence? The points that seem to my mind worthy of credence are these: The existence, name, birth, and parentage of William: his connexion with the skinners' craft: his violent death: the discovery of the body in Thorpe Wood: its burial: the events connected with the Synod: the removal of the body to the monks' cemetery."

Not so much, then, by way of comfort for either the hagiologists, or the Jew-baiters. However, the wreck of Thomas's case still contains fragments of interest:

"More doubtful, but not, I think, necessarily to be rejected, are the visits of William to the Jews and the prohibition to continue them: the apprenticeship to the Archdeacon's cook: the entry into the Jewry on the Tuesday before Easter: the experience of Aelward Ded. This last is a crucial point no doubt. It carries with it our acquiescence in the statement that William did, somehow or other, meet his death in the Norwich Jewry: and to me this is not inconceivable."

Not unquestionably worthy of credence, these latter points; not likely, even; yet... "not inconceivable". MRJ is willing - just about - to acknowledge the possibility of an isolated incident, similar to the Inmestar event; but the existence of an international custom of sanctioned ritual murder is rejected out of hand.

James develops his argument, laying the grounds for surprises later on in the chapter:

"I should think nothing of the [latter, more speculative] evidence, were it not for the fact that we are dealing with the first of all the mediaeval accusations of child-murder. But that is a very important point. The way in which those on the spot received the notion is instructive. It did not command an unquestioning reception. There were many doubters, against whom Thomas finds it necessary to fulminate; and their disbelief was owing in great part, no doubt, to the lack of good evidence; but also, we must allow, to the fact that the idea was a new one. No one can accept Theobald's account of the murder as a thing done every year by the most cultured and enlightened Jews of Europe: but as the result of accident, or as the deed of an insane or superstitious Jew, it is not incredible."

So, proceeding with extreme caution amid a veritable blizzard of double negatives, MRJ floats the outside possibility that William may have met his death at the hands of some individual, unnamed Jew, fanatical and unhinged. Here we may suspect that he places too much credence in the testimony of Aelward Ded - "a crucial point no doubt", but one which reaches us second-hand via the narrative of Thomas of Monmouth. If we accept Aelward's suspiciously deferred witness statement, though, we are necessarily left with what looks like the involvement of at least one Jew in the case - which, needless to say, is a very different thing from Theobald's tall tales of some rabbinical Murder Incorporated. The parallel which may strike us, from our perspective of more than a hundred years after James's time of writing, is that of Hirsch Grynszpan's assassination of German Embassy official Ernst vom Rath in 1938. Grynszpan was undoubtedly guilty of the crime, but the killing of vom Rath was clearly the act of a seriously deluded and irrational personality - not, as Goebbels' propaganda machine was quick to claim, evidence of a global Jewish conspiracy against the Aryan race. And just as Grynszpan's crime brought awful reprisals upon the innocent Jewish population of Germany in the form of Kristallnacht, so Theobald's fantasy of Jewish ritual murder provided the wholly spurious justification for nearly nine hundred years of European anti-Semitism.

Turning aside from these weighty issues for a while, MRJ takes his customary magpie's delight in enumerating the various miracles attributed to the intercession of the blessed William. These include the deliverance of a sick woman by the ferns growing on the woodland grave, and the vision granted to a sick man, Lewin of Welle, in which he was commanded to visit William's grave.[17] These diversions dealt with (at what one suspects is not really enough length to suit James the connoisseur of the bizarre), we return to the more serious matter of the blood libel as it developed in the years after William's death. MRJ cites the following cases: the account[18] of the boy Harold found at Gloucester in March 1168, supposed with a complete absence of supporting evidence to have been killed by Jews in a circumcision ritual "according to the law" (an "extremely shaky story", notes MRJ); the (separate) accusations of child-murder made against the Jews of Orleans and Blois in 1171; the martyrdom in 1197 of St Richard de Pontoise by the Jews of Paris;[19] the death of the boy Robert at Bury St Edmunds in 1181;[20] the martyrdom - actually more a disappearance, since no body was ever produced - of a boy at Winchester, etc., etc. Working with his co-author Augustus Jessopp, MRJ demonstrates a neat chain of rumour and hearsay linking the later English cases with the original incident in Norwich: for example, the Gloucester case may well connect back to William via the nearby abbey at Pershore, where the cultus of William was well enough established for a letter from a Pershore monk to appear in Thomas's book, and whose Abbot was a monk of Eye in Suffolk... a short enough journey down the road from Norwich. Concludes MRJ: "There is, then, in each of these cases something to suggest a connexion with Norwich; in no one of them is any evidence produced which lends them any verisimilitude; and there is a story already current which invites and suggests imitation."

This being, of course, the archetype: William of Norwich. Now, at the conclusion of the chapter, MRJ returns to the fountainhead, ready to summarise his findings:

"Widely different is the story of William of Norwich, appearing as it does after a blank of seven centuries in the records of child-murder by the Jews (having indeed but one predecessor in those records), and backed by a good deal of circumstantial evidence. It arises too at a time when, and in a place where the Jews were a flourishing and well-protected body. It comes apparently as a novelty to the minds of the people at large; and the extreme frequency of the mention of it in contemporary chronicles shews that it made a considerable impression. It is undoubtedly the strongest case of the kind."

But how strong is "the strongest case of its kind"? We have already seen James's disinclination to indulge Thomas of Monmouth in his macabre flights of fancy, his unsupported allegations, his spurious assertions. Sure enough, the scholar's verdict is far from favourable: "Yet, as we have seen, much of the evidence must be heavily discounted; and we have to remember that Thomas, our one authority, is a very credulous partisan." And James is still wholly unconvinced by the notion of global Jewish conspiracy to murder:

"...accusations of child-murder, of cannibalism and of other horrid practices, are among the first that any set of uneducated people is likely to bring against a tribe or sect whose practices they do not understand. Charges of this kind we know were made against Christians by Pagan Greeks and Romans, against heretical sects by orthodox Christians, against the Templars by their contemporaries, against Christian missionaries (in 1870 and in 1895) by the Chinese."

Blood libel disposed with, MRJ returns to the nugget of truth at the heart of Thomas's obfuscations: the murder of the boy William. Now he resembles more than ever the hero of one of his beloved detective novels, assembling the dramatis personae of the case (in the library, no doubt!), recapping the evidence, setting the scene for a dramatic denouement. His conclusions, set out in James's cogent and elegant prose, are worth quoting at some length:

"We must in the last resort formulate the various theories of William's death which seem most probable, and shortly state the reasons for and against each. We may suppose

"(1) That William's murder was a genuine case of ritual-murder, on the part of the Jews as a body.

"For this we have really only the evidence of Theobald; and, on the other side, ritual-murder as a practice has been learnedly and thoroughly disproved by Strack[21] and others... Again, it is unlikely that the educated Jews of Norwich in their corporate capacity would perpetrate this crime as an act of anti-Christian spite. They would be running a quite unnecessary risk, and there is nothing to shew that the practice was a recognised one at any period of their history.

"(2) That William was killed by a Christian, and the murder laid at the Jews' door with the definite intention of rousing the people against them. That such things were done in later times, there is unfortunately no room to doubt. But in this case it is improbable...

"(3) That William was killed by a person unknown, and the rest of the story invented. This is the view that most readers of the present day will be inclined to take. It differs from the last mainly in looking upon the affair as a natural growth and not the culmination of an elaborate plot. There is much in favour of this notion, and I have little doubt that the truth of the matter lies between it and the next supposition, namely,

"(4) That William was killed accidentally or intentionally by a Jew, and the rest of the story invented. If this theory be accepted, the events we must suppose to have run somewhat after this fashion: either the outrage of Inmestar was repeated, or the boy was the victim of a pure accident, in the Norwich Jewry, at the hands of some one of the baser sort of Jews. The more prominent members of the community, recognizing the certainly fatal consequences which would ensue either if they gave up the body, or if they concealed it and it were discovered, determined to stand by their co-religionists. The story of Aelward Ded would then be substantially true, and also the statement that the sheriff was bribed."

Set forth baldly, this last possibility might have seemed controversial, not to say incendiary. But at each turn James is scrupulous in avoiding the slightest taint of anti-Semitic bias in his review of the evidence. It is tempting to ascribe to one's heroes those modern-day opinions, prejudices, etc., one holds most dear: tempting, but not always justifiable. MRJ could be - and often was - scathing about many of the sacred cows now taken for granted by the chattering classes; he was "a Victorian by birth and education",[22] and could on occasion be every bit as crusty and conservative as the label implies. However, in his discussion of the blood libel, ur-text of the bigot's contemptible arsenal, he does seem to be - unusually, it might be argued, for a man of his era - free of even the conventional or 'background' anti-Semitism of the day.

Of course, it might be argued that even if James had harboured anti-Semitic opinions, he might have considered a scholarly work an inappropriate forum in which to display them. However, this is to underestimate the extent to which anti-Semitic prejudice permeated 'polite' English society at the end of the 19th century - and well into the 20th. Simply put, it was not considered at all unusual, let alone impolite or 'bad form', for any reference, critical or favourable, in media both high and low, to Jews to be accompanied by, at worst, some dismissive slur or slight, or, at best, a 'humorous' form of racial stereotyping. It was the age of Ikey-Mo, the miserly music-hall caricature; it was also the age of the sinister hook-nosed white-slaver of the yellow press, Bolshevist agitator, despoiler of Christian women. Within ten years of James and Jessopp's publication of their Thomas of Monmouth translation, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion were on sale in Moscow and points West.

It may be the case that James had no very high opinion of the Jews as a race - there is nothing of which I am aware in any of his writings to suggest that he harboured any particular opinion of them, one way or the other.[23] However, we do find, when examining James's treatment of the blood libel in the above passages, a scrupulous and quite exemplary respect for the facts of the matter, untainted by any breath of chauvinism or prejudice. There is a large and well-attested-to body of evidence to suggest that James was a kindly, clubbable and warm-hearted man, and such are not often to be found among the ranks of the virulently anti-Semitic; over and above that, though, one suspects that the sheer irrationality and lack of scholarly rigour at the heart of anti-Semitism would have rendered it altogether repellent to him. I stand to be corrected on this point, but would be surprised to find much serious evidence of major and wilful prejudice being expressed by James.

Now let us briefly return to MRJ's closing summary of Thomas of Monmouth's case. After a last whack at the dead-horse notion of the blood libel, MRJ has one other surprise left for us: at the remove of some seven-and-a-half centuries, he has a prime suspect in the case of William of Norwich's murder...

"It is, of course, much simpler to adopt the hypothesis that the whole story was a fabrication, suggested by the discovery of the boy's body: and it is clear that there was a good deal of imposture connected with the business... Still we have on the other hand to take into account the possibilities of what a mad hatred of a dominant system, or a reversion to half-forgotten practices of a darker age, might effect in the case of an ignorant Jew seven centuries back. We see from Theobald's disastrous evidence what such a man could imagine. Can we be sure that there were not at Norwich Jews as bad as he, who could give effect to such a fancy? Is it beyond the bounds of possibility that he did the deed himself?"

Once more, the irrepressible MRJ shines through. His love of a good detective yarn, evident already in his careful sifting of the evidence, leads him to this last conjecture: the playful, yet not entirely outrageous suggestion that Theobald, converted Jew and willing informant against his former kin, might himself be the guilty man.

Well, full marks for ingenuity: but realistically, there does not seem much point in pursuing, so to speak, a prosecution against Theobald. If we were to play MRJ's game and apply the standards and practices of modern-day detective fiction to this ancient case, we might look at Theobald and see a very common type - namely, the serial confesser, of the sort that all notorious cases attract. Typically, these characters have very low levels of self-esteem (check - one suspects that not many days would have passed in the Norwich cloisters without Theobald being reminded, in some way or another, of the essential treachery of the Christ-denying Semite, etc., etc.); and they tend to abase themselves before authority figures, identifying with them to an ultimately irrational degree (check - Theobald not only converts, but takes holy orders). The thrill and notoriety of a big criminal case will draw them like flies to a jam-pot: it will provide what they feel is most lacking in their own lives, namely, a sense of importance, of significance, the gravity of some great and irresistible arrangement imposed on what otherwise seems hateful randomness. Desperate to bask in the reflection of what they perceive as glamour, they will seek to interpose themselves at the very heart of the affair, either furnishing 'clues' in the form of fabricated eyewitness testimony, or in the most extreme case, confessing to the crime. Such people very rarely commit the types of crime to which they confess: their needs are more than adequately met by the act of confession and the attention thereby gained, and they are far more likely to be charged with wasting police time than with any serious offence.

Now Theobald stops short of confessing to the murder of William, but his testimony provides the underpinning for the whole of Thomas's case. As MRJ points out, we simply do not have this picture of the blood libel before Theobald's catastrophic intervention. We cannot say how much of it he cobbled together from existing sources - legends like that of Inmestar, popular anti-Semitic rumours, perverted versions of Jewish folklore (as with Haman the Hung), etc. - but certainly the blood libel as it persists to this day[24] finds its earliest articulation in Theobald's testimony to Thomas. Seldom, if ever, can so much ill-feeling, strife and bloodshed have sprung from one malicious little rumour: even the most inveterate attention-seeker could hardly have envisaged his actions having such a disastrous consequence. In this sense, if in no other, James may be right to single him out as the villain of the piece, at the end of a fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable historical investigation.


[1] M.R. James's Chapter VI, "The Legend", from The Life and Miracles of St William of Norwich (Cambridge University Press, 1896, pp.lxii-lxxix), can be read in full in the G&S web site Archive. For some of the information in my article I am indebted to the entry on William of Norwich in the online Catholic Encyclopedia, to which those curious for more details are directed. Relevant parts of Thomas of Monmouth's text (in the James/Jessopp translation) may be found in the Ancient History Sourcebook.

[2] Successor to Bishop Eborard in 1146.

[3] Catholic Encyclopedia, entry on St William of Norwich.

[4] Augustus Jessopp, The Life and Miracles of St William of Norwich, p.xiv.

[5] "This messenger - said by Thomas to be the emissary of the Jews - is a very mysterious figure. He was unknown to the mother, and Thomas is ignorant whether he was a Christian or a Jew. The interview, as he reports it, is coloured by attempts to draw a parallel to the Betrayal of Christ. The traitor is made to mention 30 pieces of silver, and eventually produces the tithe of that sum - three pieces - as the price of blood.": M.R. James, The Life and Miracles of St William of Norwich, p.lxvi. Note the parodic or imitative elements of these actions with regard to Christ's Passion, all very much in keeping with what was to follow.

[6] "The chief men and Rabbis of the Jews who dwell in Spain assemble together at Narbonne, where the Royal seed [resides], and where they are held in the highest estimation, and they cast lots for all the countries which the Jews inhabit; and whatever country the lot falls upon, its metropolis has to carry out the same method with the other towns and cities, and the place whose lot is drawn has to fulfill the duty imposed by authority.": Thomas of Monmouth, The Life and Miracles of St William of Norwich, p.94.

[7] Thomas of Monmouth, op cit, pp.15-16.

[8] The Catholic Encyclopedia, op cit.

[9] Later to be murdered by the followers of Sir Simon de Novers, remember.

[10] Thomas of Monmouth, op cit, pp.21-22.

[11] Thomas further alleges that William's own brother, Robert, was bribed in an attempt to have the accusations dropped; also Bishop Turbe, that he might drop the counter-charge made in the case of the murder of Eleazar. Given that King Stephen and his court, no less, were also supposed to have been bought off, it would seem there was no shortage of funds among the conspirators! True, the Jewish community in Norwich was at the time the second wealthiest in England (after that of London), but still the notion of Jewish money buying off poor Gentiles seems far too conveniently stereotypical.

[12] An interesting, though perhaps not directly relevant, comparison might have been made between the Jewish blood libel and certain more ancient allegations of ritual child-slaughter; for instance, the Greeks' accusations against the Jews of Palestine in the 1st century BCE. Later in the chapter, MRJ does allude briefly to the Romans' allegations (2nd century CE) that the Christians ate the flesh of infants in their agapes.

[13] Evagrius Scholasticus, 6th-century bishop of Antioch, Byzantine scholar and chronicler of ecclesiastic history, translator of Athanasius' Life of St Anthony. Not to be confused with the Desert Father and early Christian mystic Evagrius Ponticus.

[14] St Gregory of Tours, original name Georgius Florentius (538/9?-594/5?); bishop and writer whose History of the Franks is a major source for knowledge of the 6th-century Franco-Roman kingdom. He also wrote Lives of the Fathers, seven books of miracles, and a commentary on the Psalms.

[15] M.R. James, Introduction to Collected Ghost Stories (Edward Arnold, 1931).

[16] Quite literally between them, as it happens - by a curious accident of geography, John de Caineto's residence within the Castle Fee lay directly between the Cathedral-Priory precinct, to the north-east, and the Jewish quarter, immediately to the south-west.

[17] Even while taking pleasure in the quasi-Fortean notion of the miracle cure, James is still very much the scholar: in comparing the account of Lewin's Easter-time visit to Norwich with Thomas's original version of events immediately following William's death, MRJ catches the chronicler in an embarrassing historical inexactitude: "One thing... is clear; Thomas has made a bad blunder in one of his two accounts".

[18] From the Historia Monasterii S. Petri Gloucestriae, p.21 (Rolls Series).

[19] In which reference is again made to the supposed Jewish custom of slaughtering a Gentile child each year.

[20] Supposed, on little or no evidence, to have been crucified by the Jews.

[21] Der Blutaberglaube, H.L. Strack, Munich 1891 (MRJ's own footnote).

[22] M.R. James, "A Neighbour's Landmark", 1924.

[23] Michael Cox makes the following annotation to "The Uncommon Prayer-book" in Casting the Runes and Other Ghost Stories (OUP, 1987, p.332): "Homberger/Poschwitz is the only deliberately Jewish character in MRJ's fiction and is painted in decidedly uncomplimentary terms". To which I can only remark that the character is indeed unsympathetic, to the point of being a stereotype - but to say that MRJ pulled a stock villain off the shelf for use in one of his minor tales, is not to say that he was adopting a deliberately anti-Semitic position. The very fact that the stock character of the Jewish villain was so readily available to MRJ points to the near-total prevalence of the negative stereotypes associated with Jews at that time; but we should note that Poschwitz's 'Jewishness' is two-dimensional at best, almost cartoon-like: hardly central to the plot. (To see what I mean, compare "The Uncommon Prayer-book", first published in 1921, with Guy Thorne's When It Was Dark, one of the most popular novels of the Edwardian and early Georgian eras; note especially the character of Constantine Schaube, a truly repulsive caricature of the "vulgar Semite" loaded to the hilt with racial, religious and social significance.) It might also be argued that the hero's name in "The Uncommon Prayer-book" - Davidson - has more than a ring of the Semitic about it! If Davidson and Poschwitz were both in fact Jewish, this would add a somewhat sharper edge to James's rather blunt satirical intent when he has Poschwitz say (my emphasis): "we English have always this marvellous talent for accumulating rarities in the most unexpected places, ain't it?"

[24] And it does persist, right up to the present day: see the articles published on March 10 and 12, 2002, in the Saudi Arabian state-sponsored daily newspaper Al-Riyadh, under the byline of Umayma Ahmad Al-Jalahma, described as an academic of King Faisal University in Al-Dammam. Headlined "Jews Use Teenagers' Blood for 'Purim' Pastries" (subtitle: "Special Ingredient For Jewish Holidays is Human Blood From Non-Jewish Youth"), the articles explain that "the Jew must prepare very special pastries, the filling of which is not only costly and rare - it cannot be found at all on the local and international markets." These pastries are presumably the Haman-taschen, the cakes eaten during the festival of Purim to celebrate the Jews' delivery from the hands of cruel Haman. Mostly, the cakes are filled with prunes, but not according to Umayma: "For this holiday, the Jewish people must obtain human blood so that their clerics can prepare the holiday pastries. In other words, the practice cannot be carried out as required if human blood is not spilled!!" Recounting the history of Haman from the Book of Esther, Umayma summarises thus: "Since then, the Old Testament, the Jewish holy book, requires the Jews to glorify this holiday and show their joy. This joy can only be complete with the consumption of pastries mixed with human blood". Now comes the section Theobald would have recognised: the preparation of the Haman-taschen requires "a mature adolescent who is, of course, a non-Jew - that is, a Christian or a Muslim. His blood is taken and dried into granules. The cleric blends these granules into the pastry dough; they can also be saved for the next holiday. In contrast, for the Passover slaughtering, about which I intend to write one of these days, the blood of Christian and Muslim children under the age of 10 must be used, and the cleric can mix the blood [into the dough] before or after dehydration." (Source: the website of the Middle East Media Research Institute). As this article is being prepared for press, a popular Egyptian television channel is showing a programme based, entirely uncritically, on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion... And so on, and so on, quite literally ad nauseam.

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"The Experiment"

Story Notes

The annotations for "The Experiment" in Michael Cox's M.R. James: Casting the Runes and Other Ghost Stories (Oxford World's Classics 1987) were confined to the publication details of the story and a short note on "good Bishop Moore". To these in A Pleasing Terror: The Complete Supernatural Writings of M.R. James (Ash-Tree Press 2001) was added only a summary of Steve Duffy's suggestion concerning the identity of "Nares" (from Ghosts & Scholars 31). "The Experiment" is admittedly a minor, weak and difficult tale, but this very difficulty would seem to invite a more expansive set of annotations, so that its significance and the reasons for its unsatisfactory nature might be better understood.

"The Experiment: A New Year's Eve Ghost Story" was published in the Morning Post, December 31, 1931 (the 1930 date in Casting the Runes and A Pleasing Terror is a typo). Although never lost (it is - with "A Vignette" - on A.F. Scholfield's list of MRJ's writings in S.G. Lubbock's A Memoir of Montague Rhodes James, CUP 1939), it seems to have been forgotten, largely due to the fact that it was written and published just too late to feature in MRJ's 1931 Collected Ghost Stories. The tale was first reprinted in Hugh Lamb's anthology The Thrill of Horror (W.H. Allen 1975); then four years later in Peter Haining's M.R. James: Book of the Supernatural (Foulsham).

According to Michael Cox in M.R. James: An Informal Portrait (OUP 1983, p.227), MRJ was under both time and space constraints when composing "The Experiment": "At Cambridge that Christmas [1931] he tried to write a story ('The Experiment') for the Morning Post, but the result did not please him: 'the limits of space are tiresome and I don't know if they will take it - I'm not sure I would in their place'."

The current location of the original manuscript of "The Experiment" is unknown. These notes were compiled by Rosemary Pardoe and Darroll Pardoe. The page/line references are to A Pleasing Terror.

Title: "(Full Directions will be found at the End)": Opinions differ as to whether this is really a part of the title, or whether it is an editor's instruction which was accidentally left in and has been repeated in every ensuing reprint.

p.397, l.10: "to toll the bell": A single church bell was tolled to mark a death in the parish.

p.398, l.3-4: "earth grave... on the north side": Traditionally (and in a number of MRJ's tales) the 'Devil's side' of the churchyard, where evil-doers were buried, and also (possibly more relevant in this case) nonconformists and others who had a right to burial but were not CofE. If Squire Bowles truly asked to be buried here (and it's hard to see any reason why the family should have lied about it - see also p.398, l.13), then perhaps it was due to his unorthodox beliefs and interests.

p.398, l.13: "No coffin": Although it was quite normal at this time for all but the most well-off to be buried without a coffin, Squire Bowles' family certainly seems to have been prosperous enough to afford one (even without the missing treasure). The story does not make it clear whether his stepson was telling the truth when he claimed that the Squire wanted no coffin (perhaps, again, because of his unorthodox beliefs), or whether, as seems more likely, the widow and her son were merely penny-pinching. When the funeral took place they had no plans to awaken the Squire's spirit by means of the grave-earth, so that would not have been a consideration.

p.398, l.36: "a Calvert of Yorkshire": Presumably a member of the famous Yorkshire Calvert family, the Catholics who founded Maryland in the seventeenth century, and after whom Baltimore is named. George Calvert (c.1580-1632) was the First Lord Baltimore.

p.399, l.14: "maggot": A whim or obsession.

p.399, l.14: "Middle State of the Soul": i.e. Purgatory.

p.399, l.20: "Raphael... Nares": See p.402, l.21.

p.399, l.26: "eftest": Easiest, most convenient.

p.399, l.28: "I had of good Bishop Moore": John Moore (1646-1714), Bishop of Norwich (1691-1707) and subsequently Ely (1707-1714), whose enormous library of over 30,000 books and manuscripts was purchased for Cambridge University Library by George I in 1715. It almost trebled the size of the CUL at the time. The implication of Squire Bowles' letter is that he knew John Moore personally, but it does not necessarily follow that Moore was still alive when Bowles was writing. The date of the events in the story can, however, safely be narrowed down to the last decade of the seventeenth century (i.e. after Moore became a Bishop), or the first half of the eighteenth century.

p.400, l.27: "take the drink and go where he is": i.e. take the same poison that killed his stepfather?

p.400, l.31-32: "Yarmouth... night boats sail for Holland": Great Yarmouth (Norfolk), on the coast due east of Norwich, was for several centuries a major port for voyages to Europe.

p.402, l.10-11: "petty treason... strangled at the stake and burnt": Petty treason was defined as "the crime committed by a wife in killing her husband, or a servant his lord or master, or an ecclesiastic his lord or ordinary". It was punishable for women by the method MRJ describes (the strangling was theoretically a more humane addition to the original burning at the stake, but it was not always effective and some women still burnt to death while fully conscious), and for men by hanging. Petty treason as a separate crime was abolished and reclassified as murder at the end of the eighteenth century.

p.402, l.15-26: "Bishop Moore's book of recipes": Both Bishop Moore's book of recipes and its CUL shelfmark, Dd.11.45, are genuine. The manuscript is a fifteenth-century herbal and medical miscellany including (ff.134v-139) a magical work in Latin called the Liber de angelis annulis karecteribus et ymaginibus planetarum (The Book of Angels, Rings, Characters and Images of the Planets), a series of connected discussions and experiments (experimenta) involving mainly magic squares, rings, and other talismans. On the pages surrounding this (ff.133v-134r, 140r-144v) are "Irregular Medical Notes, in Latin and English". Juris G. Lidaka, "The Book of Angels, Rings, Characters and Images of the Planets: Attributed to Osbern Bokenham", in Conjuring Spirits: Texts and Traditions of Medieval Ritual Magic (ed. Claire Fanger, Sutton 1998, pp.32-75), contains the text and translation of the Liber de angelis itself, and an expanded catalogue description of the whole of manuscript Dd.11.45, but not the text of the material surrounding the Liber de angelis, including the all-important leaf 144 where the words from "The Experiment" are supposed to be. However, we have examined the page in question (f.144r) at the University Library, and found that MRJ's experimentum is there, much as quoted except for several extra lines. It is not easy to decipher, but seems to read as follows (the words in italics were missed out by MRJ):

An experiment most ofte proved true to find out tresure hidden in the ground,
theft, manslaughter or anie other thynge.

Go to the grave of a ded man, and three tymes call hym by his nam at the hed of the grave, and say, Thou N. N. N., I coniure thee, I require thee, and I charge thee, bi thi christendome, that thou hast taken [and?] receyved, at the fontstone, and by the power and might of the Father, and of the Sonne, and of the Hollie Ghost, that thou takest leave of the Lord Raffaell and Nares and then askest leave this night to come and tell me trewlie of the tresure that lyeth hid in such a place, or in what place it is, or in what place it lyeth, how I may best com therby, or by what manner of meanes and wayes. Then take of the earth of the grave at the dead bodyes hed, and knitt it in a lynnen cloth, and put it under the right eare, and sleape thereuppon, and whersoever thou lyest or slepest, that night he wyll com and tell thee trewlie in wakyng or sleping, so that thou shalt have a verie iust knowledg of thi desyre, what soever thou shall aske hyme.

When MRJ wrote "The Experiment", he had recently completed a recataloguing of the medieval MSS in the CUL, on which he began work in 1926. He finished, over 1100 MSS later (they were brought to him at Eton in batches), in November 1930. Doubtless this particular manuscript struck him as an especially interesting item, and he must have transcribed the f.144r experimentum at this time. The revised CUL MSS catalogue was never published. (Jayne Ringrose, "The Legacy of M.R. James in Cambridge University Library", The Legacy of M.R. James, ed. Lynda Dennison, Shaun Tyas 2001, pp.23-36; R.W. Pfaff, Montague Rhodes James, Scolar 1980, pp.325-329.)

p.402, l.21: "Raffael": Primarily the great angel of healing and almost invariably listed among the seven archangels, Raphael ("God has healed") is one of only four (non-fallen) angels mentioned by name in the Bible. In the Book of Tobit, he is Tobias' companion and guide on the way to and from Media . Raphael's role as a guide extends into the afterlife in the First Book of Enoch (1 Enoch 22), where he shows Enoch the "hollow places" of Sheol, which were created in order that "the spirits of the souls of the dead should assemble therein... till the day of their judgement".

p.402, l.21: "Nares": Although Squire Bowles says that he "doubtfully read" this word as "Nares" (p.399, l.20), the reading does seem to be correct. No angel or demon of this name has been traced. The closest is Na'ar - the Hebrew for lad or servant - which is one of the names of Metatron, as in the Third Book of Enoch (3 Enoch 3, v.2; 4, v.1; etc.). Steve Duffy in G&S 31 (2000, p.50) suggested that, since Nares is the Latin for "nostrils", this might be a demon of the type shown in medieval paintings sucking the last breath or soul from the nostrils of the dying body. "Nares" may, in fact, be an invented word, or so corrupted as to be unidentifiable as a specific angelic name. The use of such verba ignota was quite common in medieval magical texts. There are several examples elsewhere in the CUL manuscript, as in, for instance, this Liber de angelis list of supposed demons/angels from an experimentum to cause an enemy to sicken: "Gartiraf, Vetearcon, Yron, Artenegelun, Nymgarraman, Laftalium, Oragin, Oclachanos".

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