Lettres juives or The Jewish Spy

The Jewish Spy

The other day, after reading something a friend posted on his Facebook wall about “Revelations of a Lady Detective,’ a collection of stories originally published in 1864,” the publication date got me thinking about finding the earliest occurrences of the word “detective” in English literature. I’ve always thought it was a more or less modern usage, something not much earlier than the 1880’s. I was wrong. I goes back a while but I’ll leave that adventure for another time. (Where do you go to find something like that? Google’s Ngram Viewer, of course. Google it ). Satisfied that curiosity, and since I was at it, I tried “Vampire,” using a starting date of 1600 to 2000. It appears the earliest use of the words “vampire” and/or “vampyre” in English literature goes back to around 1730. 


Ngram for Vampyre/Vampire

Google Ngram Viewer

However, the most interesting thing about these escapades into Google Books, is the serendipitous nature of the affair. Reading some of those early accounts on vampires, for example, can be enlightening and fun. For instance, you must remember that mid-XVIII century English was written substituting most letters ‘s’ for ‘f’ and, when it comes to a subject like ‘vampires’, such reading can startle many casual readers.

I only concentrate on what’s available for free and these links should work for most people, specially if you live in the U.S. (I think there’s limited access to lots of otherwise free content in Europe). Here is something fascinating, from the 1760’s, and comes from Volume IV of the “Jewish Spy”, translated from the original French. The books, six volumes in French, were written and published in serial form, two letters at the time, between 1738 and 1742, by Jean-Baptiste de Boyer, Marquis d’Argens, and then compiled in volumes. The Marquis d’Argens claimed to be a “translator” of the letters but the consensus is that such work is pure fiction. Below is a snapshot of a section of pages 124 and 125 of said Volume 4:

Blood ‘fuckers’…

Here is a verbatim transcription of the text:

“It is now about five Years ago, that a certain Heyduke, an Inhabitant of the Village of Medreiga, whose Name was Arnold Paul, was bruifed to Death by a Hay-Cart, which ran over him. Thirty Days after his Death, no lefs than four Perfons died fuddenly, in that manner wherein, according the the Tradition of the Country, thofe People generally die who are fucked by Vampires. Upon this a Story was called to Mind, that this Arnold Paul had told in this Life-time, viz. that at Coffova on the Frontiers of the Turkifh Servia, he had been tormented by a Vampire; (now the eftablifhed Opinion is, that a Perfon fucked by a Vampire, becomes a Vampire himfelf, and fucks in his Turn.) But that he had found a way to rid himfelf of this Evil, by eating fome of the Earth out of the Vampire’s Grave, and rubbing himfelf with his Blood. This Precaution however did not hinder his becoming a Vampire; infomuch that his Body being taken up forty Days after his Death, all the Marks of a Notorious Vampire were found thereon. His Complexion was frefh, his Hair, Nails and Beard were grown; he was full of fluid Blood, which ran from all Parts of his Body upon his Shroud.”

I find these “letters” to be amazing accounts of certain aspects of the time in XVIII century Europe. The specific letter goes on for a few more pages and I invite you to take a look at the above links.


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