Story Notes:
"Martin's Close"

(from Ghosts & Scholars 12.)

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 "Martin's Close" were compiled with the help of David Rowlands, John Alfred Taylor, Roger Johnson and Muriel Smith. I intend to add all the Story Notes to the G&S Archive in due course.

"Martin's Close" first appeared in M.R. James's second volume of ghost stories, More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, published by Edward Arnold in 1911. Like most of his tales it was originally written for Christmas reading. The manuscript was one of those sold in Sotheby's sale of November 9, 1936, but its present whereabouts are not known.

p.168, l.1: In his Introduction to the Collected Ghost Stories (page 5 in the Penguin Complete), MRJ reveals that the "parish in the West" is Sampford Courtenay in Devon. This little village (Ordnance Survey map ref. SS 63/01) lies about four miles north of the northern edge of Dartmoor, the nearest town being Okehampton. MRJ had occasion to visit Sampford Courtenay on College business in 1893, for King's owned the living there (Michael Cox, M.R. James: An Informal Portrait, Oxford 1983, pp.103-104).

p.170, l.2-3: "Revd Mr Glanvil": see note to p.182, l.25. MRJ has made a rare error here, for Joseph Glanvil died in 1680, four years before the events in this story.

p.170, l.22 on: It is widely acknowledged that in this account of a trial before Judge Jeffreys, MRJ is at the height of his powers as a brilliant historical pastichist. George Jeffreys (1648-89) is most noted for his 'bloody assize', which dealt with the supporters of the Monmouth Rebellion. On September 29, 1683, a year before the trial in "Martin's Close", he became Lord Chief Justice. He also features in MRJ's "A Neighbour's Landmark".

p.170, l.24: "oyer and terminer": commission to judges on circuit to hold court.

p.170, l.31-32: The 36th year of the rule of Charles II is counted from the death of his father, Charles I, in 1649, rather than from his physical accession in 1660 (the intervening years having been occupied by the Commonwealth).

p.170, l.37-38: "then and there did die": an essential statement. In about 1630 Sir Thomas Holt murdered his cook by hacking his head in two with a cleaver. The indictment stated that this had been done, but failed to add that the man had died of it. Sir Thomas was acquitted. (Douglas Woodruff, More Talking at Random, 1944, p.35).

p.171, l.23: Sir Robert Sawyer (1633-92) was Attorney General from 1681 to 1687.

p.172, l.39: The New Inn at Sampford Courtenay is a real building which still exists. Dating from the 16th/17th century, it is described as rambling and unspoilt in the Good Cider Guide.

p.173, l.28: "Madam, will you walk": a popular folk and music-hall song of the "Oh no, John" type, there are many different versions in the oral tradition. It dates back to at least the late seventeenth century.

p.179, l.32-33: "have it cried": have the loss of the knife announced by the town crier.

p.182, l.25: "Glanvil": Joseph Glanvil (1636-80), one-time vicar of Frome (Somerset), is known as the Father of Psychical Research. In 1666 he published an account of his research into the "Drummer of Tidworth" poltergeist case. Sadducismus Triumphatus, his report of the Somerset witches, appeared posthumously in 1681.

p.182, l.26: "Mr Lang": Andrew Lang, Scottish folklorist, wrote many books on the subject in the nineteenth century, including the variously coloured Fairy Books, and The Book of Dreams and Ghosts.

p.182, l.37-38: "name was spelt wrong...": this is clearly inspired by the trial of the regicide Henry Marten/Martin (C.V. Wedgwood, The Trial of Charles I, 1964, Fontana 1967, p.250). Henry Marten's plea on this basis was unsuccessful, but his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

p.183, l.32: North Tawton is a neighbouring village to the east of Sampford Courtenay; less than two miles distant.

Copyright (c) 1990 Rosemary Pardoe.

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