IN the autumn of 1818 the London New Monthly Magazine came into possession of a package of documents that was certain to cause a literary sensation. It contained not just a letter retailing a few precious nuggets of gossip about the exploits of Byron and Shelley during their sojourn by Lake Geneva in the summer of 1816, but also what appeared to be an original prose story composed by Lord Byron himself, at this time the most famous living writer in the world. Better still, this prose tale, entitled The Vampyre, seemed to follow the pattern of Byron's best-known poetical productions-- Childe Harold's Pilgrimage ( 1812-18) and Manfred ( 1817)--by incorporating a strong element of confessional self-portraiture, but this time treating the familiar figure of the accursed outlaw in even more lurid terms as a bloodsucking demon or 'vampyre' with the tell-tale name of Lord Ruthven--clearly an echo of another recent fictional portrayal of Byron as Clarence de Ruthven, Lord Glenarvon in the novel Glenarvon ( 1816) by Lady Caroline Lamb, Byron's cast-off mistress. The story seemed, then, to have Byron written all over it, lacking only the authentication of his signature.
To the New Monthly's proprietor, Henry Colburn, disappointed by sluggish sales of his magazine, and alarmed at the great success of its new Scottish rival, Blackwood's Magazine, the package from Geneva came as a godsend. He set his staff to work in preparation for the coming literary coup, commissioning an explanatory introduction that could illuminate for a readership still largely unfamiliar with vampire-lore the nature and literary lineage of the curious body of East European folk beliefs embodied in The Vampyre. The prefatory account of 'this singularly horrible superstition' was probably written by Colburn's sub-editor Alaric Watts, who also prepared an editorial statement to appear above the "'Letter from Geneva'" and the other preliminary materials, noting cautiously that