The Moon-Gazer and One Other, published by the Haunted Library in 1988, consisted of two antiquarian supernatural stories by "D.N.J.", both reprinted for the first time. "The Journal of Edward Hargood" had originally appeared in the Cambridge Review of January 26, 1911; and "The Moon-Gazer" several years later in the same periodical on June 9, 1920. As far as I have been able to ascertain these were the only tales by "D.N.J." to see print, at least under that pseudonym. As I pointed out in my introduction to the booklet, the author was clearly quite well-read in the ghost story field: there is, for instance, a completely deadpan reference to J.S. Le Fanu's Dr Hesselius in "The Moon-Gazer". That "D.N.J." was a Cambridge contemporary of M.R. James is certain (two of MRJ's tales also first appeared - in 1913 and 1914 - in the Cambridge Review). That he knew MRJ and was a member of his circle, perhaps even present on some of the famous occasions when MRJ read his stories to friends, seems more than likely, but must remain conjectural unless and until the identity of "D.N.J." is discovered. So far it has proved elusive.
I need hardly retail in full to Cambridge readers the strange story that centres round the name of Dunning, but in case there should be some who have not yet heard it, I will relate, without adornment, the main facts of his life. He was born in 1692 and came to Bene't College, Cambridge, in 1710. From 1714 to 1720 he resided as a Fellow of his College, but in the last-mentioned year he seems to have inherited some considerable fortune, and for the next seventeen years he was never in Cambridge. But in 1737 he suddenly re-appeared, evidently a poor man once more, and for thirty years lived in his old rooms on the ground-floor of L staircase in Bene't College, seeing hardly a soul outside his College, and devoting his energies to the translation of the works of several obscure German physicians. Towards the end of the year 1767 he disappeared as suddenly as he had re-appeared, and to this day, in spite of many theories, the mystery of his fate has never been solved.
Readers, therefore, will understand my excitement when I came across this name in the manuscript journal in Downing Library. I obtained leave to take it home with me, and at once looked up the dates of its commencement and ending; my interest was, if possible, redoubled on finding that the first entry was made on January 1st, 1761, and the last on November 9th, 1768, that is to say, about twelve months after Dunning's disappearance. At last, I thought, I shall find some clue to the Dunning Mystery. But on reading through the journal I was, at first, bitterly disappointed and then horribly fascinated. It is one of the most amazing productions that it has ever been my fate to read. Of life and thought in Cambridge in the eighteenth century it gives hardly a glimpse, and in all its three hundred and seventy-three pages there are only about twenty names mentioned, the most frequent of which is that of Dunning. The rest of the book is confined to a few domestic details of rather a sordid nature, a vast deal of outrageous and indecent blasphemy, and long-drawn descriptions of disease and of operations carried out with all the barbarity of surgery in the eighteenth century. These last descriptions fill nearly three-quarters of the book, and they shew a dark and perverted nature, absolutely heartless and devoid of any feeling for human weakness or human pain. Over all there reigns a spirit of grim and brutal humour that finds expression in comments that, at first, sound only naive and childish, until their lurking ferocity becomes manifest. For instance, in describing the death of some unhappy victim under his hands, he writes: "never did I hear a boy give so much outcry; he died after a vast deal of it, as I was scraping the bone, more of the pain than his injuries I suppose". This is one of the more tolerable incidents recorded; others are too repulsive for print, and the kindest interpretation to put upon them is that Edward Hargood had lost all semblance of humanity in his love of his profession.
But, as regards Dunning, the journal is, at first sight, disappointing. In the beginning there are several records of him, such as "at work with old Mr Dunning again in Findsilver St.", "a long talk with old Dunning", and once or twice mention is made of "a conversation through his window with D. tonight till very late". But in the crucial year of 1767 Dunning is only mentioned by name five times, and at the supposed date of his disappearance from his rooms there is one of the frequent lacunae in the journal, of some seven weeks duration. Although all Cambridge was gossipping about the "strange story", Hargood, one of Dunning's few acquaintances outside his college, makes no mention of it until January 17th, 1768. On January 17th, he notes that "Mr Cowper came to see [me] to-day from the Master and Fellows of his college, and asked me of this alledged disappearance of Mr Dunning. I gave what information I could, and said I thought he was only gone from Cambridge a time". After this entry follows a diatribe against "Fellows and the like", with whom Hargood, to judge from one or two earlier passages, was not on good terms.
After this incursion of foreign interest, the journal continues on its bloodthirsty way, and the accounts of dissections and operations are given with greater regularity and almost more copiousness than usual, and Dunning's name is not mentioned again until November 7th. At this date the Diary assumes, of a sudden, a most dramatic form, which we must describe in detail.
On November 7th the entry is short and alarming, and runs as follows:
"Nov. 7. to-night had in Mr Morden of Catherine Hall, who talk of publishing Dunning's old papers, which worthless, when a most surprising Occurence. I was standing talking to M. seated before me, when he goes into a Fit, becoming first much suffused with Blood in the Face, and very red, his eyes shooting out, as he saw something which frightened [him]. Then he became very pale, his mouth dropping down in a Grin, and he waves, half rising from the Chair, his Hand at the Mirrour behind me, as if he saw something, and falls in a Swoon upon the Floor. I have in help and he was carried to his Rooms. I am curious to know what gave him such Terrour and what he thought to see behind me."
Under this startling entry there comes a black line, evidently drawn with a quill pen in some impatience. On close inspection, under this line, can be descried some faded handwriting, extraordinarily minute and spider-like and quite illegible. Two days later, Hargood notes that Morden has died "of the Fit he had in my House", and then the entry goes on to say
"being ill with a putrid sore throat, little work to-day, and I am much provoked to find th---"
The entry breaks off dramatically at this point, and then follows this strange exclamation, written in an agitated hand,
"God whom I have denied help me."
and again underneath,
"God whom I have denied help me."
But under this second wild appeal for help, once more there can be descried the faint, weird handwriting that appears under the black line on November 7th. After these two last entries there comes a sentence, written in quite a different hand.
"I have guessed ...........this is a terrible book",
and so the journal ends.
So far, it may be said that this Journal throws no new light on the Dunning mystery, but I now must quote two MSS I found incorporated with the Journal. The first is short and runs as follows:
"This book came into the possession of my friend Charles Morrison from the Library of his uncle, Archdeacon Morrison. I have often heard him tell how he found it in his uncle's hands at the time of his sudden death." (signed) J.H. Craik.
The other document is a letter from Charles Morrison to John Craik, Esq (dated March 2nd, 1851) and copied out in Craik's handwriting. It runs as follows:
"Dear Craik. I have found out the mystery of that abominable book and I wish to Heaven I had not. All my suspicions of H. were true.
"The truth suddenly flashed through my mind as I was sitting by myself after dinner with the book on my knees, and before I knew what I was about, I was round at the side-board and had flung the book upside down before the glass, open at the last page, where that horrible little impish handwriting comes. After a few minutes poring, I made out in the reflection of the page, that the first sentence after Hargood's remark 'I am curious to know what he thought to see behind me,' ran as follows, with no capitals and repeated twice:
"I was hurrying on in wild agitation to the next sentence under H's appeal for help, when suddenly an overpowering thought seized me. I remembered how my uncle had died with this book in his hand and I felt I now knew why. I did not dare to look up or take my eyes away from the reflected page, but stood staring at it stupidly. You may laugh at what I saw next, but I tell you in that moment I saw in the glass the hand of an old man, very thin and wrinkled and very cruel looking, with soiled ruffles at the wrist, glide over my sleeve and point with its fore-finger to the second sentence and slowly pass along the page. Fascinated I followed it and read 'i come to-morrow the end of one year for mine enemy'. At the end of the sentence the hand stopped. I did not dare to look up to see what might be at my back, but shut my eyes and turned round, opening them saw - nothing. I have not been able to abide the sight of a looking glass these last two days, and write to ask you to come quickly,
yours, C. Morrison."
"Postscript. My poor friend died before I came to him, on March 5th, 1851. J.H.C."
Inspired by my interest in this book, some years ago, I made enquiries into Hargood's life. I met with disappointingly little success. All I could find was that he lived in Cambridge from 1759 to 1768 in a large house on the High Street, next door to the Dolphin Inn, with a small garden at the back, going up to the walls of Bene't College. This house (which was once occupied by the famous E.D. Clarke) was destroyed in 1817 to make room for the new buildings of Corpus Christi College. The other fact which I found of any interest is that he was buried in St Bene't's Churchyard on November 12th, 1768.
Whether the terrible theory propounded in the letter I have quoted contains the right explanation of the story or whether it is a grim joke of Mr Craik's conception, I have not presumed to find out. I returned the book to the Library the day after I had taken it out, and there it is lying probably at the present moment, unknown and untouched by any hand since the day I placed it once more upon its obscure and dusty shelf.
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March 2, 2000
Bar by Syruss