The Endless Bookshelf : simply messing about in books







June 2007
Buchnarr, 1494. Ware! Ware! Ware the Book-Fool!

6 June 07

Dateline : London
A cornerstone of horror literature ?
Recently perused : [Malthus], An Essay on the Principle of Population  (1798), in the original. From the preface: “ . . .  but [the Author] has not acquired that command over his understanding which would enable him to believe what he wishes, without evidence, or to refuse his assent to what might be unpleasing, when accompanied with evidence. ”
From chapter one : “ Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. A slight acquaintance with numbers will shew the immensity of the first power in comparison of the second. ”

John Clute, in The Darkening Garden  and elsewehere, has been exploring the ways in which the fantastical mode of writing arose in the second half of the eighteenth century. He has noted that western Europe first appeared to become aware of the planet as a whole ; certainly by the time of Malthus, the notion is so firmly established that he wrote : “ . . .  let us take the whole earth, instead of one spot, and suppose that the restraints to population were universally removed  . . . ”
The earliest identifiable mode of fantastic literature is the gothic, from which science fiction soon emerged. Clute writes, “ Horror is that category of stories set in worlds that are false until the tale is told. ”

Can one plausibly date horror writing before Malthus ? This is a relevant question, for Malthus wrote his Essay in response to ideas expressed by William Godwin, whose “ Political Justice  was followed in May 1794 by the remarkable novel Caleb Williams , suggested partly by some of his views as to the falseness of the common code of morality . . . ” (DNB).  Things as they are ; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams  is a gothic thriller, but is it horror ? I can see that I shall soon have to read this novel (long on my list of books I have been meaning to read).