maskedball1831

“Death, the Avenger” (based on a description by the poet Heinrich Heine of the outbreak of cholera at a masked ball in Paris in 1831). 1851 engraving by Alfred Rethel (1816–1859), from A History of Everyday Things in England : 1733-1851.

The pestilence was awaited with comparative indifference, because the news from London was that it carried off comparatively few … [during the day] the Parisians streamed merrily to the boulevards to look at the masks, which held up to ridicule the fear of the cholera and the disease itself, by all sorts of monstrous caricatures. The public balls [that night] were fuller than ever that evening; insane peals of laughter almost drowned the music. People got heated in the Chahut, a dance of no doubtful character, swallowed ices and cold drinks … and then, all of a sudden, the gayest of the harlequins felt a strange chill in his limbs, and took off his mask; when, to the amazement of all, his face was seen to be violet blue. It was soon found that this was not a joke, and the laughter ceased; wagons full of men were taken from the hall to the hospital of the Hotel Dieu, where, all dressed in their masquerading habits, they straightway died. As the theory of infection prevailed in the first excitement, and the other inmates of the Hotel Dieu shrieked in terror, it is said that the earliest victims were so hastily buried that they were not even stripped of their motley dresses, so that they lie in the grave as merrily as they lived. — Heinrich Heine.

Presumably an influence on Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” (1842), and also on Lovecraft’s “The Outsider”…

… the open windows — gorgeously ablaze with light and sending forth sound of the gayest revelry. Advancing to one of these I looked in and saw an oddly dressed company, indeed; making merry, and speaking brightly to one another. I had never, seemingly, heard human speech before; and could guess only vaguely what was said. Some of the faces seemed to hold expressions that brought up incredibly remote recollections; others were utterly alien. I now stepped through the low window into the brilliantly lighted room, stepping as I did so from my single bright moment of hope to my blackest convulsion of despair and realisation. The nightmare was quick to come; for as I entered, there occurred immediately one of the most terrifying demonstrations I had ever conceived. Scarcely had I crossed the sill when there descended upon the whole company a sudden and unheralded fear of hideous intensity, distorting every face and evoking the most horrible screams from nearly every throat. Flight was universal, and in the clamour and panic several fell in a swoon and were dragged away by their madly fleeing companions. Many covered their eyes with their hands, and plunged blindly and awkwardly in their race to escape; overturning furniture and stumbling against the walls before they managed to reach one of the many doors. — from “The Outsider”.

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