The Tomb

Written by H. P. Lovecraft in 1917

In relating the circumstances which have led to my confinement within this refuge for the
demented, I am aware that my present position will create a natural doubt of the authenticity
of my narrative. It Is an unfortunate fact that the bulk of humanity is too limited in its mental
vision to weigh with patience and intelligence those isolated phenomena, seen and felt only
by a psychologically sensitive few, which lie outside Its common experience. IVIen of broader
Intellect know that there Is no sharp distinction betwixt the real and the unreal; that all things
appear as they do only by virtue of the delicate Individual physical and mental media through
which we are made conscious of them; but the prosaic materialism of the majority condemns
as madness the flashes of super-sight which penetrate the common veil of obvious

My name Is Jervas Dudley, and from earliest childhood I have been a dreamer and a
visionary. Wealthy beyond the necessity of a commercial life, and temperamentally unfitted for
the formal studies and social recreations of my acquaintances, I have dwelt ever In realms
apart from the visible world; spending my youth and adolescence in ancient and little-known
books, and In roaming the fields and groves of the region near my ancestral home. I do not
think that what I read In these books or saw in these fields and groves was exactly what other
boys read and saw there; but of this I must say little, since detailed speech would but confirm
those cruel slanders upon my Intellect which I sometimes overhear from the whispers of the
stealthy attendants around me. It Is sufficient for me to relate events without analysing

I have said that I dwelt apart from the visible world, but I have not said that I dwelt alone. This
no human creature may do; for lacking the fellowship of the living, he inevitably draws upon
the companionship of things that are not, or are no longer, living. Close by my home there lies
a singular wooded hollow, in whose twilight deeps I spent most of my time; reading, thinking,
and dreaming. Down Its moss-covered slopes my first steps of Infancy were taken, and
around Its grotesquely gnarled oak trees my first fancies of boyhood were woven. Well did I
come to know the presiding dryads of those trees, and often have I watched their wild dances in the struggling beams of a waning moon — but of these things I must not now speak. I will tell only of the lone tomb In the darkest of the hillside thickets; the deserted tomb of the Hydes, an old and exalted family whose last direct descendant had been laid within Its black recesses many decades before my birth.

The vault to which I refer Is of ancient granite, weathered and discoloured by the mists and
dampness of generations. Excavated back into the hillside, the structure is visible only at the
entrance. The door, a ponderous and forbidding slab of stone, hangs upon rusted iron hinges, and Is fastened ajar ‘m a queerly sinister way by means of heavy Iron chains and padlocks, according to a gruesome fashion of half a century ago. The abode of the race whose scions are here inurned had once crowned the declivity which holds the tomb, but had long since fallen victim to the flames which sprang up from a disastrous stroke of lightning. Of the midnight storm which destroyed this gloomy mansion, the older Inhabitants of the region sometimes speak In hushed and uneasy voices; alluding to what they call “divine wrath” In a manner that In later years vaguely Increased the always strong fascination which I felt for the forest-darkened sepulchre. One man only had perished In the fire. When the last of the Hydes was burled In this place of shade and stillness, the sad urnful of ashes had come from a distant land; to which the family had repaired when the mansion burned down. No one
remains to lay flowers before the granite portal, and few care to brave the depressing
shadows which seem to linger strangely about the water-worn stones.

I shall never forget the afternoon when first I stumbled upon the half-hidden house of death. It
was in mid-summer, when the alchemy of Nature transmutes the sylvan landscape to one
vivid and almost homogeneous mass of green; when the senses are well-nigh intoxicated with
the surging seas of moist verdure and the subtly indefinable odours of the soil and the
vegetation. In such surroundings the mind loses its perspective; time and space become
trivial and unreal, and echoes of a forgotten prehistoric past beat insistently upon the
enthralled consciousness. All day I had been wandering through the mystic groves of the
hollow; thinking thoughts I need not discuss, and conversing with things I need not name. In
years a child of ten, I had seen and heard many wonders unknown to the throng; and was
oddly aged in certain respects. When, upon forcing my way between two savage clumps of
briers, I suddenly encountered the entrance of the vault, I had no knowledge of what I had
discovered. The dark blocks of granite, the door so curiously ajar, and the funereal carvings
above the arch, aroused in me no associations of mournful or terrible character. Of graves
and tombs I knew and imagined much, but had on account of my peculiar temperament been
kept from all personal contact with churchyards and cemeteries. The strange stone house on
the woodland slope was to me only a source of interest and speculation; and its cold, damp
interior, into which I vainly peered through the aperture so tantalisingly left, contained for me
no hint of death or decay. But in that instant of curiosity was born the madly unreasoning
desire which has brought me to this hell of confinement. Spurred on by a voice which must
have come from the hideous soul of the forest, I resolved to enter the beckoning gloom in
spite of the ponderous chains which barred my passage. In the waning light of day I
alternately rattled the rusty impediments with a view to throwing wide the stone door, and
essayed to squeeze my slight form through the space already provided; but neither plan met
with success. At first curious, I was now frantic; and when in the thickening twilight I returned
to my home, I had sworn to the hundred gods of the grove that at any cost I would some day
force an entrance to the black, chilly depths that seemed calling out to me. The physician with
the iron-grey beard who comes each day to my room once told a visitor that this decision
marked the beginning of a pitiful monomania; but I will leave final judgment to my readers
when they shall have learnt all.

The months following my discovery were spent in futile attempts to force the complicated
padlock of the slightly open vault, and in carefully guarded inquiries regarding the nature and
history of the structure. With the traditionally receptive ears of the small boy, I learned much;
though an habitual secretiveness caused me to tell no one of my information or my resolve. It
is perhaps worth mentioning that I was not at all surprised or terrified on learning of the nature
of the vault. My rather original ideas regarding life and death had caused me to associate the
cold clay with the breathing body in a vague fashion; and I felt that the great and sinister
family of the burned-down mansion was in some way represented within the stone space I
sought to explore. Mumbled tales of the weird rites and godless revels of bygone years in the
ancient hall gave to me a new and potent interest in the tomb, before whose door I would sit
for hours at a time each day. Once I thrust a candle within the nearly closed entrance, but
could see nothing save a flight of damp stone steps leading downward. The odour of the
place repelled yet bewitched me. I felt I had known it before, in a past remote beyond all
recollection; beyond even my tenancy of the body I now possess.

The year after I first beheld the tomb, I stumbled upon a worm-eaten translation of Plutarch’s
Lives in the book-filled attic of my home. Reading the life of Theseus, I was much impressed
by that passage telling of the great stone beneath which the boyish hero was to find his
tol<ens of destiny whenever he should become old enough to lift its enormous weight. This
legend had the effect of dispelling my keenest impatience to enter the vault, for it made me
feel that the time was not yet ripe. Later, I told myself, I should grow to a strength and
ingenuity which might enable me to unfasten the heavily chained door with ease; but until
then I would do better by conforming to what seemed the will of Fate.

Accordingly my watches by the dank portal became less persistent, and much of my time was spent in other though equally strange pursuits. I would sometimes rise very quietly in the
night, stealing out to walk in those churchyards and places of burial from which I had been
kept by my parents. What I did there I may not say, for I am not now sure of the reality of
certain things; but I know that on the day after such a nocturnal ramble I would often astonish
those about me with my knowledge of topics almost forgotten for many generations. It was
after a night like this that I shocked the community with a queer conceit about the burial of the
rich and celebrated Squire Brewster, a maker of local history who was interred in 1711 , and
whose slate headstone, bearing a graven skull and crossbones, was slowly crumbling to
powder. In a moment of childish imagination I vowed not only that the undertaker, Goodman
Simpson, had stolen the silver-buckled shoes, silken hose, and satin small-clothes of the
deceased before burial; but that the Squire himself, not fully inanimate, had turned twice in his
mound-covered coffin on the day after interment.

But the idea of entering the tomb never left my thoughts; being indeed stimulated by the
unexpected genealogical discovery that my own maternal ancestry possessed at least a slight
link with the supposedly extinct family of the Hydes. Last of my paternal race, I was likewise
the last of this older and more mysterious line. I began to feel that the tomb was mine, and to
look forward with hot eagerness to the time when I might pass within that stone door and
down those slimy stone steps in the dark. I now formed the habit of listening very intently at
the slightly open portal, choosing my favourite hours of midnight stillness for the odd vigil. By
the time I came of age, I had made a small clearing in the thicket before the mould-stained
facade of the hillside, allowing the surrounding vegetation to encircle and overhang the space
like the walls and roof of a sylvan bower. This bower was my temple, the fastened door my
shrine, and here I would lie outstretched on the mossy ground, thinking strange thoughts and
dreaming strange dreams.

The night of the first revelation was a sultry one. I must have fallen asleep from fatigue, for it
was with a distinct sense of awakening that I heard the voices. Of those tones and accents I
hesitate to speak; of their quality I will not speak; but I may say that they presented certain
uncanny differences in vocabulary, pronunciation, and mode of utterance. Every shade of
New England dialect, from the uncouth syllables of the Puritan colonists to the precise rhetoric
of fifty years ago, seemed represented in that shadowy colloquy, though it was only later that I
noticed the fact. At the time, indeed, my attention was distracted from this matter by another
phenomenon; a phenomenon so fleeting that I could not take oath upon its reality. I barely
fancied that as I awoke, a light ha6 been hurriedly extinguished within the sunken sepulchre. I
do not think I was either astounded or panic-stricken, but I know that I was greatly and
permanently c/7aA7gfeGfthat night. Upon returning home I went with much directness to a rotting chest in the attic, wherein I found the key which next day unlocked with ease the barrier I had so long stormed in vain.

It was in the soft glow of late afternoon that I first entered the vault on the abandoned slope. A
spell was upon me, and my heart leaped with an exultation I can but ill describe. As I closed
the door behind me and descended the dripping steps by the light of my lone candle, I
seemed to know the way; and though the candle sputtered with the stifling reek of the place, I
felt singularly at home in the musty, charnel-house air. Looking about me, I beheld many
marble slabs bearing coffins, or the remains of coffins. Some of these were sealed and intact,
but others had nearly vanished, leaving the silver handles and plates isolated amidst certain
curious heaps of whitish dust. Upon one plate I read the name of Sir Geoffrey Hyde, who had
come from Sussex in 1640 and died here a few years later. In a conspicuous alcove was one
fairly well-preserved and untenanted casket, adorned with a single name which brought to me
both a smile and a shudder. An odd impulse caused me to climb upon the broad slab,
extinguish my candle, and lie down within the vacant box.

In the grey light of dawn I staggered from the vault and locked the chain of the door behind
me. I was no longer a young man, though but twenty-one winters had chilled my bodily frame.
Early-rising villagers who observed my homeward progress looked at me strangely, and
marvelled at the signs of ribald revelry which they saw in one whose life was known to be
sober and solitary. I did not appear before my parents till after a long and refreshing sleep.

Henceforward I haunted the tomb each night; seeing, hearing, and doing things I must never
reveal. My speech, always susceptible to environmental influences, was the first thing to
succumb to the change; and my suddenly acquired archaism of diction was soon remarked
upon. Later a queer boldness and recklessness came into my demeanour, till I unconsciously
grew to possess the bearing of a man of the world despite my lifelong seclusion. My formerly
silent tongue waxed voluble with the easy grace of a Chesterfield or the godless cynicism of a
Rochester. I displayed a peculiar erudition utterly unlike the fantastic, monkish lore over which
I had pored in youth; and covered the flyleaves of my books with facile impromptu epigrams
which brought up suggestions of Gay, Prior, and the sprightliest of the Augustan wits and
rimesters. One morning at breakfast I came close to disaster by declaiming in palpably
liquorish accents an effusion of eighteenth-century Bacchanalian mirth; a bit of Georgian
playfulness never recorded in a book, which ran something like this:

Come hither, my lads, with your tankards of ale.
And drink to the present before it shall fail;
Pile each on your platter a mountain of beef.
For ’tis eating and drinking that bring us relief:

So fill up your glass.
For life will soon pass;

When you’re dead ye’ll ne’er drink to your king or your lass!

Anacreon had a red nose, so they say;

But what’s a red nose if ye’re happy and gay?

Gad split me! I’d rather be red whilst I’m here,

Than white as a lily — and dead half a year!
So Betty, my miss.
Come give me a kiss;

In hell there’s no innkeeper’s daughter like this!


Young Harry, propp’d up just as straight as he’s able,
Will soon lose his wig and slip under the table;
But fill up your goblets and pass ’em around —
Better under the table than under the ground!
So revel and chaff
As ye thirstily quaff:

Under six feet of dirt ’tis less easy to laugh!

The fiend strike me blue! I’m scarce able to walk.
And damn me if I can stand upright or talk!

Here, landlord, bid Betty to summon a chair;
I’ll try home for a while, for my wife is not there!
So lend me a hand;
I’m not able to stand,

But I’m gay whilst I linger on top of the land!

About this time I conceived my present fear of fire and thunderstorms. Previously indifferent to
such things, I had now an unspeakable horror of them; and would retire to the innermost
recesses of the house whenever the heavens threatened an electrical display. A favourite
haunt of mine during the day was the ruined cellar of the mansion that had burned down, and
in fancy I would picture the structure as it had been in its prime. On one occasion I startled a
villager by leading him confidently to a shallow sub-cellar, of whose existence I seemed to
know in spite of the fact that it had been unseen and forgotten for many generations.

At last came that which I had long feared. My parents, alarmed at the altered manner and
appearance of their only son, commenced to exert over my movements a kindly espionage
which threatened to result in disaster. I had told no one of my visits to the tomb, having
guarded my secret purpose with religious zeal since childhood; but now I was forced to
exercise care in threading the mazes of the wooded hollow, that I might throw off a possible
pursuer. My key to the vault I kept suspended from a cord about my neck, its presence known only to me. I never carried out of the sepulchre any of the things I came upon whilst within its walls.

One morning as I emerged from the damp tomb and fastened the chain of the portal with
none too steady hand, I beheld in an adjacent thicket the dreaded face of a watcher. Surely
the end was near; for my bower was discovered, and the objective of my nocturnal journeys
revealed. The man did not accost me, so I hastened home in an effort to overhear what he
might report to my careworn father. Were my sojourns beyond the chained door about to be
proclaimed to the world? Imagine my delighted astonishment on hearing the spy inform my
parent in a cautious whisper that I had spent the night in the bower outside the tomb; my
sleep-filmed eyes fixed upon the crevice where the padlocked portal stood ajar! By what
miracle had the watcher been thus deluded? I was now convinced that a supernatural agency
protected me. Made bold by this heaven-sent circumstance, I began to resume perfect
openness in going to the vault; confident that no one could witness my entrance. For a week I
tasted to the full the joys of that charnel conviviality which I must not describe, when the thing
happened, and I was borne away to this accursed abode of sorrow and monotony.


I should not have ventured out that night; for the taint of thunder was in the clouds, and a
hellish phosphorescence rose from the rank swamp at the bottom of the hollow. The call of
the dead, too, was different. Instead of the hillside tomb, it was the charred cellar on the crest
of the slope whose presiding daemon becl<oned to me with unseen fingers. As I emerged
from an intervening grove upon the plain before the ruin, I beheld in the misty moonlight a
thing I had always vaguely expected. The mansion, gone for a century, once more reared its
stately height to the raptured vision; every window ablaze with the splendour of many
candles. Up the long drive rolled the coaches of the Boston gentry, whilst on foot came a
numerous assemblage of powdered exquisites from the neighbouring mansions. With this
throng I mingled, though I l<new I belonged with the hosts rather than with the guests. Inside
the hall were music, laughter, and wine on every hand. Several faces I recognised; though I
should have l<nown them better had they been shrivelled or eaten away by death and
decomposition. Amidst a wild and reckless throng I was the wildest and most abandoned. Gay blasphemy poured in torrents from my lips, and in my shocking sallies I heeded no law of
God, IVIan, or Nature. Suddenly a peal of thunder, resonant even above the din of the swinish
revelry, clave the very roof and laid a hush of fear upon the boisterous company. Red tongues
of flame and searing gusts of heat engulfed the house; and the roysterers, struck with terror at
the descent of a calamity which seemed to transcend the bounds of unguided Nature, fled
shrieking into the night. I alone remained, riveted to my seat by a grovelling fear which I had
never felt before. And then a second horror took possession of my soul. Burnt alive to ashes,
my body dispersed by the four winds, / might never lie in the tomb of the Hydesl^Nas not my
coffin prepared for me? Had I not a right to rest till eternity amongst the descendants of Sir
Geoffrey Hyde? Aye! I would claim my heritage of death, even though my soul go seeking
through the ages for another corporeal tenement to represent it on that vacant slab in the
alcove of the vault. Jervas IHyde should never share the sad fate of Palinurus!

As the phantom of the burning house faded, I found myself screaming and struggling madly in
the arms of two men, one of whom was the spy who had followed me to the tomb. Rain was
pouring down in torrents, and upon the southern horizon were flashes of the lightning that had
so lately passed over our heads. IVIy father, his face lined with sorrow, stood by as I shouted
my demands to be laid within the tomb; frequently admonishing my captors to treat me as
gently as they could. A blackened circle on the floor of the ruined cellar told of a violent stroke
from the heavens; and from this spot a group of curious villagers with lanterns were prying a
small box of antique workmanship which the thunderbolt had brought to light. Ceasing my
futile and now objectless writhing, I watched the spectators as they viewed the treasure-trove,
and was permitted to share in their discoveries. The box, whose fastenings were broken by
the stroke which had unearthed it, contained many papers and objects of value; but I had
eyes for one thing alone. It was the porcelain miniature of a young man in a smartly curled
bag-wig, and bore the initials “J. H.” The face was such that as I gazed, I might well have
been studying my mirror.

On the following day I was brought to this room with the barred windows, but I have been kept informed of certain things through an aged and simple-minded servitor, for whom I bore a fondness in infancy, and who like me loves the churchyard. What I have dared relate of my
experiences within the vault has brought me only pitying smiles. IVIy father, who visits me
frequently, declares that at no time did I pass the chained portal, and swears that the rusted
padlock had not been touched for fifty years when he examined it. He even says that all the
village knew of my journeys to the tomb, and that I was often watched as I slept in the bower
outside the grim facade, my half-open eyes fixed on the crevice that leads to the interior.
Against these assertions I have no tangible proof to offer, since my key to the padlock was

lost in the struggle on that night of horrors. The strange things of the past which I learnt during
those nocturnal meetings with the dead he dismisses as the fruits of my lifelong and
omnivorous browsing amongst the ancient volumes of the family library. Had it not been for
my old servant Hiram, I should have by this time become quite convinced of my madness.

But Hiram, loyal to the last, has held faith in me, and has done that which impels me to make
public at least a part of my story. A week ago he burst open the lock which chains the door of
the tomb perpetually ajar, and descended with a lantern into the murky depths. On a slab in
an alcove he found an old but empty coffin whose tarnished plate bears the single word
“Jervas”. In that coffin and in that vault they have promised me I shall be buried.


  • This text was compiled and released by This book is licensed for distribution under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC 3.0).
  • Photo by Francisco Ortiz from Pexels