“Tomb, The“

“Tomb, The“
   Short story (4,190 words); written in June 1917. First published in the Vagrant(March 1922); rpt. WT (January 1926); first collected in O;corrected text in D; annotated version in TD.
   Jervas Dudley tells of his lonely and secluded life. He discovers, in a wooded hollow near his home, a tomb that houses the remains of a family, the Hydes, that dwelt in a mansion nearby. This mansion had been struck by lightning and burned to the ground, although only one member of the family had perished in the flame. The tomb exercises an unholy fascination upon Dudley, and he haunts it for hours at a time. It is locked, but the door is “fastened ajarin a queerly sinister way by means of heavy iron chains and padlocks, according to a gruesome fashion of half a century ago.” Dudley resolves to enter this tomb at any cost, but he is too young and weak to break open the lock (he is only ten years old at this time). Gradually he begins to display various odd traits, in particular a knowledge of very ancient things that he could not possibly have learned from books. One night, as he is lying on a bower outside the tomb, he seems to hear voices from within: “Every shade of New England dialect, from the uncouth syllables of the Puritan colonists to the precise rhetoric of fifty years ago, seemed represented in that shadowy colloquy….” He does not say what the colloquy was about, but upon returning home he goes directly to a rotting chest in the attic and finds a key to unlock the tomb.
   Dudley spends much time in the tomb. But now another peculiar change takes place in him: hitherto a sequestered recluse, he begins to show signs of “ribald revelry” as he returns from the tomb. In one instance he declaims a drinking song of Georgian cast. He also develops a fear of thunderstorms. Dudley’s parents, worried about his increasingly odd behavior, now hire a “spy” to follow his actions. On one occasion Dudley thinks that this spy has seen him coming out of the tomb, but the spy tells his parents that Dudley had spent the night on the bower outside the tomb. Dudley, now convinced that he is under some sort of supernatural protection, frequents the tomb without fear or circumspection. One night, as thunder is in the air, he goes to the tomb and sees the mansion as it was in its heyday. A party is under way, and guests in powdered wigs are brought in by carriage. But a peal of thunder interrupts the “swinish revelry” and a fire breaks out. Dudley flees, but finds himself being restrained by two men. They maintain that Dudley had spent the entire night outside the tomb and point to the rusted and unopened lock as evidence. Dudley is put away in a madhouse. A servant, “for whom I bore a fondness in infancy,” goes to the tomb, breaks it open, and finds a porcelain miniature with the initials “J.H.”; the picture could be of Dudley’s twin. “On a slab in an alcove he found an old but empty coffin whose tarnished plate bears the single word ‘Jervas’. In that coffin and in that vault they have promised me I shall be buried.”
   HPL noted that the genesis of the story occurred in June 1917, when he was walking with his aunt Lillian Clark through Swan Point Cemetery and came upon a tombstone dating to 1711. “Why could I not talk with him, and enter more intimately into the life of my chosen age? What had left his body, that it could no longer converse with me? I looked long at that grave, and the night after I returned home I began my first story of the new series—The Tomb’” (HPL to the Gallomo, [January] 1920). The tombstone is evidently one in the Clark plot—one Simon Smith (d. March 4, 1711), apparently a distant ancestor of Mrs. Clark.
   William Fulwiler points out that the use of the name Hyde is a nod to Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,suggesting that both works involve a double. There may also be an influence from Poe’s “Ligeia.”
   The so-called “Drinking Song from ‘The Tomb’” was written separately, perhaps years before the story itself. The manuscript of the poem survives at JHL as part of an unfinished letter to an unknown correspondent. There the song is titled “Gaudeamus,” and HPL evidently wrote it as a response to another poem (apparently by an amateur journalist) of the same title, which HPL considered inferior. Will Murray has conjectured that the song may have been inspired by a similar song contained in Thomas Morton’s New English Canaan or New Canaan(1637), but a likelier source may be a song in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s School for Scandal(1777).
   See William Fulwiler, “‘The Tomb’ and ‘Dagon’: A Double Dissection,” Crypt No. 38 (Eastertide 1986): 8–14; Will Murray, “A Probable Source for the Drinking Song from The Tomb,’” LSNo. 15 (Fall 1987): 77–80.

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