One of the books on Ireland’s shelves was a 1908 edition of Algernon Blackwood’s (1869–1951) ‘John Silence’ stories. Two years earlier Ireland had first come to know the uncanny world of Arthur Machen, and Blackwood’s tales are in a similar vein, with the character of John Silence and the nature of his encounters clearly inspired by Machen, and perhaps too by the Sherlock Holmes stories and the eerie hauntings of M.R.James. Like Machen, Blackwood was a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
Doctor Silence is a medic with psychic abilities who treats unusual cases in unusual places as outlined below:
‘A Psychical Invasion’: An author in Putney opens himself to malignant spiritual influences by taking a dose of a mind-expanding drug. Doctor Silence employs the services of a dog and cat from his own household in order to help him confront the assailant.
‘Ancient Sorceries’: A quiet, shy gentleman is ensnared by the shape-shifting shadows of a past life, as he returns from a holiday in a mysterious French village. Doctor Silence diagnoses his condition but has doubts as to whether the man will have the strength to resist the lure of an old love.
‘The Nemesis of Fire’: Elemental fires and an ancient Egyptian curse haunt the home of a retired military man and his sister. John Silence must discover how and why the problem started and what must be done to defuse the situation.
‘Secret Worship’: A businessman pays a visit to his old school in a sleepy town in Germany’s Black Forest, only to find that things have changed horribly. He could be lost, body and soul, but John Silence is also in the neighbourhood.
‘The Camp of the Dog’: Doctor Silence makes an emergency call to a wilderness island in the Baltic Sea to deal with a mysterious dog.
‘A Victim of Higher Space’: A man has studied to know and understand dimensions beyond those familiar to ordinary humans (somewhat akin to the mysteries of Machen’s The Great God Pan). He succeeds just well enough to slip uncontrollably into a rather disturbing dimension. Doctor Silence helps him to get to the next stage of understanding.
Ireland would not have known the last story, as only the first five were gathered together and published in 1908, though all six date from 1906–7. The version that Ireland bought was a book titled John Silence: Physician Extraordinary, which was reprinted many times. In recent years the stories have been republished as a set of six, edited by S. T. Joshi as ‘weird fiction’ .
The complete stories as Ireland knew them can be read HERE.