Story Notes:
"Lost Hearts"

(from Ghosts & Scholars 10.)

In 1987, Oxford World's Classics published Casting the Runes and Other Ghost Stories, a collection of twenty-one tales by M.R. James with excellent notes by Michael Cox. Twelve stories were excluded from the volume, so twelve stories remained unannotated until I began this series of notes in G&S 10. The tales were dealt with in the order in which they appear in the Collected Ghost Stories, and the page/line references were to the Penguin Complete Ghost Stories of M.R. James (1984) although they should be comprehensible even with a different edition. The notes for "Lost Hearts" were compiled with the help of David Rowlands, John Alfred Taylor and Ron Weighell. I intend to add all the Story Notes to the G&S Archive in due course.

"Lost Hearts" was written some time between July 1892, when James visited his brother "Ber" (Herbert Ellison Rhodes James) in Ireland, and October 1893, when it was read to the Chitchat Society in Cambridge. Though "Lost Hearts" had been published in the December 1895 Pall Mall Magazine, MRJ told James McBryde "I don't much care about it", and included it in Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904) only when Edward Arnold insisted on more stories to fill out the book (Michael Cox, M.R. James: An Informal Portrait, Oxford 1983, pp.136-37). Montague Summers, on the other hand, considered it to be one of MRJ's "best stories".

"Lost Hearts" has twice been dramatised for television; first in the Mystery and Imagination series on ITV, when Freddie Jones played Abney and Megs Jenkins Mrs Bunch (March 5th, 1966); second in the BBC's series of Christmas MRJ plays, when Joseph O'Connor played Abney (December 1973).

p.21, l.2: Aswarby Hall was a real place, some four miles south of Sleaford in Lincolnshire (Ordnance Survey Map Ref.: 53065400). It is now largely demolished. The use of actual locations without disguise can have surprising aftermaths; soon after Ghost Stories of an Antiquary appeared, MRJ received a letter from the neighbourhood of Aswarby Hall asking "are these stories real?" (Cox, Ibid, p.142).

p.21, l.25: The character of Abney may well have been in part based on the real life Platonist, Thomas Taylor, one time friend and inspirer of William Blake. Apart from being the first man to translate the complete works of Plato into English, Taylor published many translations of and commentaries on the major works of the Neo-platonic, Orphic and Bacchic Mysteries; the very areas of Abney's expertise. In academic circles a legend, surely apocryphal, persisted to the effect that Taylor had performed a bloody sacrifice to the Ancient Gods at his home.

p.22, l.2: In the Rites of Mithras, the souls of worshippers who had led pious lives were elevated to the heights of heaven, becoming equal to the luminous gods, to which end a sacramental communion, offering parallels with the Eucharist, was consumed. Such rites were intended to promote purity, but Abney was by no means the first evil and callous individual to interpret them in murderously human terms. The Emperor Commodus (AD 161-192) put many men to death in his own version of Mithraic rites.

p.24, l.14-15: At the time of his visit to Ireland in 1892, James described the vaults of St Michan's as "horrid" and a "nightmare" (Cox, p.107).

p.24, l.33: Censorinus, a Roman grammarian of the third century AD, wrote De Die Natali uolumen illustre, discussing the connection between birth dates and the influence of the stars and one's genius.

p.25, l.40: The rat that could speak refers to the story of Chips and the rat from "Nurse's Stories", Chapter XV of Dickens' The Uncommercial Traveller.

p.27, l.3-11: Cox (p.6) suggests that in passages like the one beginning "The wind had fallen...", "...the images of (MRJ's) childhood surroundings emerge with renewed potency."

p.28, l.11: "orders of Spiritual beings who control the elemental forces": The Natural World was thought to be composed of four elements, earth, air, fire and water, having the elemental qualities of cold, dryness, heat and moisture. To each element was attributed a species of spirit: the Pigmies, the Sylphes, the Salamanders and the Nymphs respectively. Abney clearly sees them as intermediate intelligences between gods and men.

p.28, l.12-18: By saying "the author of the Clementine Recognitions", Mr Abney shows his awareness that the author of this near-romance was definitely not Clement of Rome, thus making his unblinking acceptance of Hermes Trismegistus as a source grotesquely humorous (needless to say no Hermetic book contains this recipe for near-divinity). The Clementine Recognitions give an additional detail of Simon Magus' use of the boy's spirit, in that Simon keeps his image in his bedchamber, probably as a trap or habitation for the ghost (Clementine Recognitions, Book II, Chapters 13 & 15; in Arcana Mundi, John Hopkins 1985, published in Britain by Crucible). There was at one time a tendency to treat Simon Magus as a purely symbolic figure, but more recent scholarship has moved towards the view that he was a historical figure who founded a definable school of Gnostic thought. It is, however, debatable whether the Simon Magus of the Acts of the Apostles is in fact the 'heresiarch' in question.

Copyright (c) 1988 Rosemary Pardoe.

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