Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Phantom Clutch, Final Part

J.P. Quaine didn't take kindly to Bill Loft's claim that he had taken credit for inventing what were in fact genuine titles. Writing to Stan Larnach at the end of 1955 Quaine wrote:

"I repeat that in a moment of exuberance I invented the two titles, despite what our expert says. The trouble is that all my four witnesses are dead, Jay, Ono, Steele and Medcraft...The affair occurred in this way. About 1926 I wrote a short article for the Melbourne Herald called Varney the Vampire, and, to pep it up, I created the two titles under discussion. As I usually sent over sea to the pals copies of any articles I had done on Bloods, I posted one to Jay, Ono and Steele. I did not know Medcraft then. I pointed out to all of em my little joke, never dreaming that I was laying a pitfall for the unwary."

In fact, the article appeared in the Melbourne Herald in October 1927, and in the interests of laying this ghost forever, here is the article in full:

Varney the Vampire, by J.P. Quaine

It has been asserted that at one time the whole human race were cannibals, and through various stages of evolutionary development we have arrived at a period when we reject as unbecoming the flesh of our fellow man. This may be a debatable point; but the fact remains; we are now so overwhelmingly submerged in mawkish sentiment that we speak disparagingly (just as if we were all greengrocers or vegetarians) of those whose ideas are not strictly in accord with our own. After all, diet is a matter of taste! Thank heavens, one of the bygone scribes of the “penny blood” school immortalised on at least three occasions, those heroes who held unconventional views upon diet. Thomas Peckett Prest, the talented author of The Maniac Father, The Blighted Heart, and The Skeleton Clutch; or, The Goblet of Gore, wrote also first of all an elegant narrative entitled Varney the Vampire; or The Banquet of Blood. This was, as you may suppose, crammed with unforgettable thrills. Most lamentable, however, poor Varney, just as we are beginning to love him, meets with an end which is compatible with his life. ‘Twas ever thus! Just as you are commencing to appreciate the worth of a really strong character in action, he is accelerated from this world of woe! The second effort in this line by Mr Prest was Sawney Bean the Man-eater of Midlothian. Now, Sawney was worth writing about; besides, it is said, he was an actual character. He lived during the reign of “The Scotch Solomon” James the First of England, when the demand for food exceeded the supply. But Sawney proved himself no mean economist, and, withdrawing to a cave by the seaside, he, though embarrassed with a numerous and ever-increasing progeny, manfully supported himself. High cost of living problems, which engender so much misery midst moderns, had no terrors for him; they dwelt in cherub-like innocence till the many strange evanishments of travelers from the Galloway road led the officious authorities to investigate. Then the secret of Sawney’s cuisine was laid bare.

He and his wife, eight sons, six daughters, 18 grandsons, and 14 grand-daughters were apprehended, and the cave searched. It was immediately evident to the meanest mentality that Sawney understood not only the management of a family, but the principles of domestic economy. With remarkable thrift and foresight, imitating in his humble way the ant and the bee, Sawney had kept his larder well stocked. Innumerable left-over remnants of the givers of the feast, who had formed the staple article of diet in Sawney’s menu were found hanging nicely dried in anticipation of a severe winter!

Prest’s greatest success was Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet-street. This gentleman, now said to be a myth, combined the art of the perruquier with that of the pie-maker. Through a trap in the floor of his shop, Mr Todd send down all those of his customers whom he imagined would not only bear transforming into pasties, but would probably, through the depths of their pockets, repay him for the trouble and undue risk he was taking. There is no evidence that Todd himself partook of these toothsome delicacies, but he and his lady love, Mrs Lovett (who presided over the pie emporium) were responsible for a generous proportion of Londoners reverting to cannibalism. Even the Bow-street Runners were extremely partial to those pies, and so attached did the great body politic become to the succulent dainties that on one occasion when Sawney had been unable to keep up the supply of raw material and Mrs Lovett had used mutton, there was a general outcry by the customers who declared that the quality of the pie had deteriorated!

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