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Contemporary Analysis of Peter Plogojowitz

The following is a nearly contemporary analysis of the case of Peter Plogojowitz, a Serbian vampire 'killed' in 1725. This account was published in 1746.


An ESSAY towards accounting for various Phaenomena, which may help to acquire an exact Knowledge of Nature. Written in High Dutch by Chriftopher Philip Berger, Doctor of Phyfick, and Phyfician in ordinary for the County of Shaumburg. The firft Tome, With a Preface by Mr. Chriftopher Wolf, Counfellor, &c. Printed at Lemgo in 8vo. containing 204 Pages without the Preface and Index (Biblioth. Germ. Tom. xl Art. vii).

Left I fhould far exceed the Bounds of an Abftract, I pafs over all the Author's Obfervations on the various Subjects I have mentioned, and give only the Hiftory of the Vampyrs, with the moft important of his Remarks on it, as being of an extraordinary Nature, and deferving particular Notice. This Hiftory is taken from a Treaty wrote by Mr. Ranfft, M. A. at Leipfick, intitled, De Mafticatione Mortuorum, who took Facts in the Leipfick Gazette, under the Art. Vienna in Auftria, (the date omitted.) 'Tis a Relation fent to the Regency of Belgrade, by the Provifor of the Diftrict of Gradlifch in Sclavonia, as follows. - In the Village of Rifolova, belonging to the Diftrict of Rahm, died one called Peter Plogojowitz: In the Space of ten Weeks after he had been buried, nine Perfons of different Ages died, not having been fick above four and twenty Hours, and all declared that the faid Plogojowitz, had appeared to them in their Sleep (a), and that having ftretch'd himfelf along on their Bodies, he had fo fqueezed their Necks, as very nearly to choke them. Such Stories are not uncommon in that Country; and in confequence of them, they have a Syftem of Vampyrifm, according to which it was infifted on, that the accufed Corps fhould be ftrictly examined, and, if guilty, duly executed to prevent his committing more Murthers. This was done in the Prefence of the Provifor, and of the Pope, i. e. the Prieft of Gradifch. The former attefts he had feen in the Corps all the Tokens, whereby the Natives of the Country difcern the Vampyrs. 1ft. It did not fmell as a Corps does, that has been long in the Ground. 2d, It was whole except the Nofe, which was fomewhat bare of Flefh and Skin. 3d, His Hair, and Beard had begun to grow again. 4th, He had new Nails inftead of the old ones. 5th, The firft Skin could eafily be peel'd off, and was turn'd whitifh; and under it there grew a new one. 6th, His Face, Hands, Feet, and the whole Body were, as when he was alive. 7th, In his Mouth there was Flefh and Liquid Blood, which none doubted but was the very Blood his Corps had suck'd out of the living Perfons, he after his death had murthered. Having thus convicted him of being a wicked Vampyr, they that moment plunged a Dagger into his Heart; and frefh Blood gufhed not only out of his Heart, but even out of his Mouth and Ears. At laft to cure him effectually and once for all of his roving Humour, they burnt his Corps to Afhes.

This Fact is confirmed by feveral like Stories, one of them attefted by Mr. Battuer, firft Lieutenant of Alexander of Virtemberg's Regiment, by Mr. Flickfteuger, Surgeon Major to the Regiment of Furftenberg, by three other Surgeons, and by Captain Guofchitz. A ftrange Thing imputed to the Vampyrs, is that thofe, who in their Life-time have been sucked, do in their Turn when dead, become Blood-suckers. In the Year 1731, in a Village of Hungary, Vampyrifm carried off in the Space of three Months feventeed Perfons of different Sex and Age, - After many Enquiries, it was agreed, that all this Mifchief was done by one Arnold Paule, a fad Vampyr, who five Years before had been dug up, convicted of Vampyrifm, pierced thro' the Heart, and reduced to Afhes. He had not only sucked four Perfons, whofe Bodies were burnt with his, but even fome Cattle; and the People, who had the Misfortune to eat of the vampyred Cattle, all turn'd Vampyrs.

The whole Church-yard was carefully vifited; and among forty Corps, feventeen were found with the marks of Vampyrifm; and you may be fure they were quickly tried, condemned, and executed.

The Integrity of the Imperial Provifor is not to be called into Queftion; and if we were as fure of the Strength of his Underftanding about phyfical Points, as we are of his Veracity, we could not forbear allowing the Sclavonian Syftem of Vampyrifm. But there is little to be faid of that worthy Gentleman's Skill in Phyfics. His want of it we may fairly infer from his making fuch a Wonder of the Fluid Blood, he faw in the Mouth of the Vampyr. There is nothing more common in dead Bodies, than a Fermentationof the Blood, which may burft the Veins, fo that the Blood gufhes out at the Nofe and Mouth; and the continuance of its Fluidity may alfo very well be accounted for.

It is not denied that the Provifor faw fomething, which he took for Nails dropping off, for a Skin peeling off, for Hair and Beard growing afrefh. People, who know not how to examine Things properly, may eafily be miftaken. Our Author attempts to fhew, and determine exactly, what it was that the Spectator took for Nails; for a new Skin; why the Blood was fluid; why the Corps had not the ufual Stench, &c.

Among many Things, which have the Property of perferving Flefh form Putrefacation, there are many contained in the Earth; fuch are various oily Matters, certain Kinds of Bitumen, certain Salts: And among the Salts, there is one Sort, vis. Salt petre,, which has not only the Virtue of keeping the Blood in its Fluidity, but to reftore it, with its florid Colour, when it has been coagulated. [If St. Januarius's Head could fpeak, fays the French Journalift it might tell us the Truth of that Affertion.]

Experience teaches us, that the Floridnefs of the Complexion is occafioned by the Fluidity of well diluted Blood; and as Saltpetre is alfo a fpecific Prefervative againft Corruption, it is probable, that Kind of Salt is the chief Caufe of the Phaenomena obferved, and fo much wondered at, in the Corps of the pretended Vampyrs.

That Conjecture will appear rational, if we confider that Church yards are very fit to produce a volatil, oily, and urinous Salt, which being mixed with the vitriolic Acid, which is difperfed every where, fomrs that Salt called Saltpetre.

It muft be owned we cannot well conceive that Saltpetre already formed can penetrate into the Coffins: But that Suppofition is not neceffary; for as the Vitriolic Acit was there before, we may judge that the volatile Salt by its very Volatility made its Way, not only through the Chinks, but even thro' the very Pores of the Wood: - We know by Experinece, that artificial volatile Salt evaporates thro' the Pores of a wooden Veffel: So you fee there was nothing wanting to compound Saltpetre within the Coffins. Saltpetre is not only formed in the Earth, but alfo in the higheft Walls, provided they happen to be near fome putrified Matter; and as the volatile Salt arifes from Putrefecation, whereof Walls are not fufceptible, it appears that Salt cannot be produced by any Thing within, or on the Wall; but comes from without, and fticks to, and gradually penetrates into them. There it forms what is commonly called Mofs, and what the Germans call the Leprofy of Houfes: which, fays the French Journalift, is perhaps the fame Thing, that it is fo called in Levit. xiv. 34. and according to Mr. Berger, is no more than the Effect of Vapours impregnated with a very fubtil Saltpetre, that adheres to the Walls on the North Side, rather than on any other Side, because there they condenfate more eafily.

From thefe Difcoveries grounded on Experience, and more fully explained in the Effay, the Author concludes that the Fluidity of the Vampyrs Blood was occafioned by Saltpetre, which penetrated thro' the Pores of the Corps, and that all that the Imperial Provifor took for Nails and Skin falling off, and for frefh grown Hair, and Beard, was nothing elfe than a fine Mofs of Saltpetre, which had modelled it felf, according to the various Parts of the Body, where it ftuck, and there formed a Kind of Tiffue, which, when they handled the Corps fomewhat roughly, fubbed off like a Peel. The Mofs of the Nails did fo much the more naturally reprefent old Nails dropping off, that by reafon of the fmallnefs of their Pores it could not ftick to them fo clofe to the Skin.

As there are fuch Salts in abundance of Place, Mr. Berger forefees he will be afked how it comes to pafs, that it is fo uncommon to fee Corps in the State of the Vampyrs. He anfwers, that that requires many concurring Circumftances, which feldom meet together, and enumerates the chief of them.

But befides, as the French Journalift obferves, vampyred Corps would proably become common, should the Prejudices, and fimple Notions of the Heydukes and Sclavonians fpread about the World. -- As the Trial is feldom made, no Body knows how often it might fucceed.

(a) A very remarkable Inftance of the Strength of Imagination. From the Impreffion made on their Minds, by their early imbibed Notions of Vampyrifm, they in their Sicknefs, (whatever it was) dreamt of Vampyrs, and no doubt, from fome particular Circumftance of Lord Plogojowitz's Life, not mentioned in the Relation, dreamt of him, rather than any other deceafed Perfon; or perhaps becaufe the firft that was taken with the Diforder, dreamt of him, the other Perfons who were feized with the fame Diforder, having heard of that Dream, dreamt of him alfo. As ot their being almoft choked, this might be fomething like what is vulgarly called the Night-mare.

Published in 'A Literary Journal' [Ed. by J.P. Droz]. Article 9, Jan. Feb. Mar, 1746, Dublin. Printed by S. Powell, for the Author. This transcription is as faithful as possible to the original, with the exception of peculiarities of period spelling that would have rendered certain words (like 'blood-sucking') unintentionally hilarious.

As admirable is their attempt to be modern and rational, it seems that attributing the entire phenomenon of vampires to an exposure of corpses to saltpeter is rushing to a conclusion. The skin-sloughing of adipocere can hardly be likened to a 'moss of saltpeter.'