John William Polidori

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Dr. Polidori

John William Polidori was born in England, the son of an Italian political exile and his English wife. He became a physician and was appointed to attend Lord Byron on his tour of the continent.

During their stay in Europe his lordship formed an attachment to the poet Shelley, inviting him and his household often to his residence at the Villa Diodati. Polidori was perforce included in the party, and his character thus exposed almost daily to their dangerous influence. The group of friends having one night frightened themselves very enjoyably by reading aloud from a book called Tales of the Dead, they thereupon challenged one another to write a story of equal sublimity and terror. It is believed this challenge was the origin of Dr. Polidori's sensational novel The Vampyre, which came out in England shortly after he returned there in 1819, having been summarily dismissed from Lord Byron's service[56]. (His lordship was never an easy employer: he often spoke jeeringly of his physician as 'Polly-Dolly'). Of course the rumour soon ran about the country that the book was either completely the work of Lord Byron himself, and confessional in nature; or that the principal character was in truth a very fair pen-portrait of his lordship, and The Vampyre faithfully described his normal mode of life while abroad. Since the book's principal character was a monstrously diabolic nobleman given in equal measure to seducing and murdering young ladies, nobody in England found this difficult to believe.

Dr. Polidori unfortunately died at his lodgings within two years of the success of this odd work, his health broken by debt and dissipation. And strange to say, although the subject matter of his book - ruthless men of rank who prolong their own lives by feeding on the blood of innocent virgins - might have been expected to excite public ridicule, it has since often found both admirers and imitators.