It has been known for some time that Mr. Lang has added ghosts to his hobbies. In the volume before us, " The Book Of Dreams And Ghosts,'' Mr. Lang offers a large collection of ghost stories old and new, and his opinions on "appearances." As far as we can gather Mr. Lang's attitude from these pages, which have much of the vagueness of expression that goes with memoirs of the supernatural, he disbelieves in traditional ghosts, the ghosts that do things-but wishes it were otherwise. Like all persons of poetical or romantic temperament, he would prefer to believe in them. They would make life so much more interesting and exciting. This book is annotated with a rare extensive biographical sketch of the author, Andrew Lang, written by Sir Edmund Gosse, CB, a contemporary poet and writer. From the contents: The Dog Fanti Mark Twain's Story The Pig In The Dining-Room The Mignonette The Lost Cheque The Ducks' Eggs The Lost Key The Lost Securities The Arrears Of Teind The Two Curmas The Assyrian Priest The Knot In The Shutter Queen Mary's Jewels The Deathbed Dream Of Mr. Perceval's Murder The Rattlesnake The Red Lamp The Scar In The Moustache The Coral Sprigs The Satin Slippers The Dead Shopman Story Of The Diplomatist Under The Lamp The Cow With The Bell The Deathbed Of Louis Xiv. The Old Family Coach Riding Home From Mess The Bright Scar The Vision And The Portrait The Restraining Hand The Benedictine's Voices The Man At The Lift The Wraith Of The Czarina An "Astral Body" In Tavistock Place The Wynyard Wraith Lord Brougham's Story The Dying Mother The Vision Of The Bride ... and much more ...
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The Book Of Dreams And Ghosts
Andrew Lang (1844-1912)
The Book Of Dreams And Ghosts
Preface To The New Impression
Preface To The First Edition
The Dog Fanti
Mark Twain’s Story
The Pig In The Dining-Room
The Lost Cheque
The Ducks’ Eggs
The Lost Key
The Lost Securities
The Arrears Of Teind
The Two Curmas
The Assyrian Priest
The Knot In The Shutter
Queen Mary’s Jewels
Dream Of Mr. Perceval’s Murder
The Red Lamp
The Scar In The Moustache
The Coral Sprigs
The Satin Slippers
The Dead Shopman
Story Of The Diplomatist
Under The Lamp
The Cow With The Bell
The Deathbed Of Louis Xiv.
The Old Family Coach
Riding Home From Mess
The Bright Scar
The Vision And The Portrait
The Restraining Hand
The Benedictine’s Voices
The Man At The Lift
The Wraith Of The Czarina
An “Astral Body”
In Tavistock Place
The Wynyard Wraith
Lord Brougham’s Story
The Dying Mother
The Vision Of The Bride
Appearances Of The Dead
The Daemon Of Spraiton In Devon Anno 1682
Sir George Villiers’ Ghost.
Lord Lyttelton’s Ghost
Chapter Vii More Ghosts With A Purpose
The Slaying Of Sergeant Davies
Concerning The Murder Of Sergeant Davies
The Gardener’s Ghost
The Dog O’ Mause
The Beresford Ghost
Half-Past One O’clock
“Put Out The Light!”
The Creaking Stair
The Grocer’s Cough
My Gillie’s Father’s Story
The Dream That Knocked At The Door
The Girl In Pink
The Dog In The Haunted Room
The Lady In Black
The Dancing Devil
Chapter X Modern Hauntings
The Wesley Ghost
Lord St. Vincent’s Ghost Story
More Haunted Houses
Haunted Mrs. Chang
The Great Amherst Mystery
Donald Ban And The Bocan
The Hymn Of Donald Ban
The Devil Of Hjalta-Stad
The Ghost At Garpsdal
Chapter Xii The Story Of Glam. The Foul Fords.
The Story Of Glam
‘The Foul Fords’ Or The Longformacus Farrier
Chapter Xiii The Marvels At Fródá
The Marvels At Fródá
Hands All Round
The Cold Hand
The Black Dog And The Thumbless Hand
The Ghost That Bit
The Book Of Dreams And Ghosts, A. Lang
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
Biographical Sketch from "Portraits And Sketches" by Edmund Gosse
INVITED to note down some of my recollections of Andrew Lang, I find myself suspended between the sudden blow of his death and the slow development of memory, now extending in unbroken friendship over thirty-five years. The magnitude and multitude of Lang's performances, public and private, during that considerable length of time almost paralyse expression; it is difficult to know where to begin or where to stop. Just as his written works are so extremely numerous as to make a pathway through them a formidable task in bibliography, no one book standing out predominant, so his character, intellectual and moral, was full -of so many apparent inconsistencies, so many pitfalls for rash assertion, so many queer caprices of impulse, that in a whole volume of analysis, which would be tedious, one could scarcely do justice to them all. I will venture to put down, almost at haphazard, what I remember that seems to me to have been overlooked, or inexactly stated, by those who wrote, often very sympathetically, at the moment of his death, always premising that I speak rather of a Lang of from 1877 to 1890, when I saw him very frequently, than of a Lang whom younger people met chiefly in Scotland.
When he died, all the newspapers were loud in proclaiming his "versatility." But I am not sure that he was not the very opposite of versatile. I take "versatile" to mean changeable, fickle, constantly ready to alter direction with the weather-cock. The great instance of versatility in literature is Ruskin, who adopted diametrically different views of the same subject at different times of his life, and defended them with equal ardour. To be versatile seems to be unsteady, variable. But Lang was through his long career singularly unaltered; he never changed his point of view; what he liked and admired as a youth he liked and admired as an elderly man. It is true that his interests and knowledge were vividly drawn along a surprisingly large number of channels, but while there was abundance there does not seem to me to have been versatility. If a huge body of water boils up from a crater, it may pour down a dozen paths, but these will always be the same; unless there is an earthquake, new cascades will not form nor old rivulets run dry. In some authors earthquakes do take place as in Tolstoy, for instance, and in S. T. Coleridge but nothing of this kind was ever manifest in Lang, who was extraordinarily multiform, yet in his varieties strictly consistent from Oxford to the grave. As this is not generally perceived, I will take the liberty of expanding my view of his intellectual development.
To a superficial observer in late life the genius of Andrew Lang had the characteristics which we are in the habit of identifying with precocity. Yet he had not been, as a writer, precocious in his youth. One slender volume of verses represents all that he published in book-form before his thirty-fifth year. No doubt we shall learn in good time what he was doing before he flashed upon the world of journalism in all his panoply of graces, in 1876, at the close of his Merton fellowship. He was then, at all events, the finest finished product of his age, with the bright armour of Oxford burnished on his body to such a brilliance that humdrum eyes could hardly bear the radiance of it. Of the terms behind, of the fifteen years then dividing him from St. Andrews, we know as yet but little; they were years of insatiable acquirement, incessant reading, and talking, and observing gay preparation for a life to be devoted, as no other life in our time has been, to the stimulation of other people's observation and talk and reading. There was no cloistered virtue about the bright and petulant Merton don. He was already flouting and jesting, laughing with Ariosto in the sunshine, performing with a snap of his fingers tasks which might break the back of a pedant, and concealing under an affectation of carelessness a literary ambition which knew no definite bounds.
In those days, and when he appeared for the first time in London, the poet was paramount in him. Jowett is said to have predicted that he would be greatly famous in this line, but I know not what evidence Jowett had before him. Unless I am much mistaken, it was not until Lang left Balliol that his peculiar bent became obvious. Up to that time he had been a promiscuous browser upon books, much occupied, moreover, in the struggle with ancient Greek, and immersed in Aristotle and Homer. But in the early days of his settlement at Merton he began to concentrate his powers, and I think there were certain influences which were instant and far-reaching. Among them one was pre-eminent. When Andrew Lang came up from St. Andrews he had found Matthew Arnold occupying the ancient chair of poetry at Oxford. He was a listener at some at least of the famous lectures which, in 1865, were collected as "Essays in Criticism"; while one of his latest experiences as a Balliol undergraduate was hearing Matthew Arnold lecture on the study of Celtic literature. His conscience was profoundly stirred by "Culture and Anarchy" (1869); his sense of prose-form largely determined by "Friendship's Garland" (1871). I have no hesitation in saying that the teaching and example of Matthew Arnold prevailed over all other Oxford influences upon the intellectual nature of Lang, while, although I think that his personal acquaintance with Arnold was very slight, yet in his social manner there was, in early days, not a little imitation of Arnold's aloofness and superfine delicacy of address. It was unconscious, of course, and nothing would have enraged Lang more than to have been accused of "imitating Uncle Matt."
The structure which his own individuality now began to build on the basis supplied by the learning of Oxford, and in particular by the study of the Greeks, and "dressed" by courses of Matthew Arnold, was from the first eclectic. Lang eschewed as completely what was not sympathetic to him as he assimilated what was attractive to him. Those who speak of his "versatility" should recollect what large tracts of the literature of the world, and even of England, existed outside the dimmest apprehension of Andrew Lang. It is, however, more useful to consider what he did apprehend; and there were two English books, published in his Oxford days, which permanently impressed him: one of these was "The Earthly Paradise," the other D. G. Rossetti's " Poems." In after years he tried to divest himself of the traces of these volumes, but he had fed upon their honey-dew and it had permeated his veins.
Not less important an element in the garnishing of a mind already prepared for it by academic and aesthetic studies was the absorption of the romantic part of French literature. Andrew Lang in this, as in everything else, was selective. He dipped into the wonderful lucky-bag of France wherever he saw the glitter of romance. Hence his approach, in the early seventies, was threefold: towards the mediaeval lais and chansons, towards the sixteenth-century Pleiade, and towards the school of which Victor Hugo was the leader in the nineteenth century. For a long time Ronsard was Lang's poet of intensest predilection; and I think that his definite ambition was to be the Ronsard of modern England, introducing a new poetical dexterity founded on a revival of pure humanism. He had in those days what he lost, or at least dispersed, in the weariness and growing melancholia of later years a splendid belief in poetry as a part of the renown of England, as a heritage to be received in reverence from our fathers, and to be passed on, if possible, in a brighter flame. This honest and beautiful ambition to shine as one of the permanent benefactors to national verse, in the attitude so nobly sustained four hundred years ago by Du Bellay and Ronsard, was unquestionably felt by Andrew Lang through his bright intellectual April, and supported him from Oxford times until 1882, when he published " Helen of Troy." The cool reception of that epic by the principal judges of poetry caused him acute disappointment, and from that time forth he became less eager and less serious as a poet, more and more petulantly expending his wonderful technical gift on fugitive subjects. And here again, when one comes to think of it, the whole history repeated itself, since in " Helen of Troy " Lang simply suffered as Ronsard had done in the "Franciade." But the fact that 1882 was his year of crisis, and the tomb of his brightest ambition, must be recognised by every one who closely followed his fortunes at that time. Lang's habit of picking out of literature and of life the plums of romance, and these alone, comes to be, to the dazzled observer of his extraordinarily vivid intellectual career, the principal guiding line. This determination to dwell, to the exclusion of all other sides of any question, on its romantic side is alone enough to rebut the charge of versatility. Lang was in a sense encyclopaedic; but the vast dictionary of his knowledge had blank pages, or pages pasted down, on which he would not, or could not, read what experience had printed. Absurd as it sounds, there was always something maidenly about his mind, and he glossed over ugly matters, sordid and dull conditions, so that they made no impression whatever upon him. He had a trick, which often exasperated his acquaintances, of declaring that he had " never heard " of things that everybody else was very well aware of. He had " never heard the name " of people he disliked, of books that he thought tiresome, of events that bored him; but, more than this, he used the formula for things and persons whom he did not wish to discuss. I remember meeting in the street a famous professor, who advanced with uplifted hands, and greeted me with " What do you think Lang says now? That he has never heard of Pascal! " This merely signified that Lang, not interested (at all events for the moment) in Pascal nor in the professor, thus closed at once all possibility of discussion.
It must not be forgotten that we have lived to see him, always wonderful indeed, and always passionately devoted to perfection and purity, but worn, tired, harassed by the unceasing struggle, the lifelong slinging of sentences from that inexhaustible ink-pot. In one of the most perfect of his poems, " Natural Theology," Lang speaks of Cagn, the great hunter, who once was kind and good, but who was spoiled by fighting many things. Lang was never " spoiled," but he was injured; the surface of the radiant coin was rubbed by the vast and interminable handling of journalism. He was jaded by the toil of writing many things. Hence it is not possible but that those who knew him intimately in his later youth and early middle-age should prefer to look back at those years when he was the freshest, the most exhilarating figure in living literature, when a star seemed to dance upon the crest of his already silvering hair. Baudelaire exclaimed of Theophile Gautier: " Homme heureux! homme digne d'envie! il n'a jamais aimé que le Beau!" and of Andrew Lang in those brilliant days the same might have been said. As long as he had confidence in beauty he was safe and strong; and much that, with all affection and all respect, we must admit was rasping and disappointing in his attitude to literature in his later years, seems to have been due to a decreasing sense of confidence in the intellectual sources of beauty. It is dangerous, in the end it must be fatal, to sustain the entire structure of life and thought on the illusions of romance. But that was what Lang did he built his house upon the rainbow.
The charm of Andrew Lang's person and company was founded upon a certain lightness, an essential gentleness and elegance which were relieved by a sharp touch; just as a very dainty fruit may be preserved from mawkishness by something delicately acid in the rind of it. His nature was slightly inhuman; it was unwise to count upon its sympathy beyond a point which was very easily reached in social intercourse. If any simple soul showed an inclination, in eighteenth-century phrase, to " repose on the bosom " of Lang, that support was immediately withdrawn, and the confiding one fell among thorns. Lang was like an Angora cat, whose gentleness and soft fur, and general aspect of pure amenity, invite to caresses, which are suddenly met by the outspread paw with claws awake. This uncertain and freakish humour was the embarrassment of his friends, who, however, were preserved from despair by the fact that no malice was meant, and that the weapons were instantly sheathed again in velvet. Only, the instinct to give a sudden slap, half in play, half in fretful caprice, was incorrigible. No one among Lang's intimate friends but had suffered from this feline impulse, which did not spare even the serenity of Robert Louis Stevenson. But, tiresome as it sometimes was, this irritable humour seldom cost Lang a friend who was worth preserving. Those who really knew him recognised that he was always shy and usually tired.
His own swift spirit never brooded upon an offence, and could not conceive that any one else should mind what he himself minded so little and forgot so soon. Impressions swept over him very rapidly, and injuries passed completely out of his memory. Indeed, all his emotions were too fleeting, and in this there was something fairy-like; quick and keen and blithe as he was, he did not seem altogether like an ordinary mortal, nor could the appeal to gross human experience be made to him with much chance of success. This, doubtless, is why almost all imaginative literature which is founded upon the darker parts of life, all squalid and painful tragedy, all stories that " don't end well" all religious experiences, all that is not superficial and romantic, was irksome to him. He tried sometimes to reconcile his mind to the consideration of real life; he concentrated his matchless powers on it; but he always disliked it. He could persuade himself to be partly just to Ibsen or Hardy or Dostoieffsky, but what he really enjoyed was Dumas pêre, because that fertile romance-writer rose serene above the phenomena of actual human experience. We have seen more of this type in English literature than the Continental nations have in theirs, but even we have seen no instance of its strength and weakness so eminent as Andrew Lang. He was the fairy in our midst, the wonder-working, incorporeal, and tricksy fay of letters, who paid for all his wonderful gifts and charms by being not quite a man of like passions with the rest of us. In some verses which he scribbled to R.L.S. and threw away, twenty years ago, he acknowledged this unearthly character, and, speaking of the depredations of his kin, he said:
Faith, they might steal me, w? ma will,
And, ken'd I ony fairy hill
I#d lay me down there, snod and still,
Their land to win;
For, man, I maistly had my fill
O' this world's din
His wit had something disconcerting in its impishness. Its rapidity and sparkle were dazzling, but it was not quite human; that is to say, it conceded too little to the exigencies of flesh and blood. If we can conceive a seraph being fanny, it would be in the manner of Andrew Lang. Moreover, his wit usually danced over the surface of things, and rarely penetrated them. In verbal parry, in ironic misunderstanding, in breathless agility of topsy-turvy movement, Lang was like one of Milton's " yellow-skirted fays," sporting with the helpless, moon-bewildered traveller. His wit often had a depressing, a humiliating effect, against which one's mind presently revolted. I recollect an instance which may be thought to be apposite: I was passing through a phase of enthusiasm for Emerson, whom Lang very characteristically detested, and I was so ill-advised as to show him the famous epigram called " Brahma." Lang read it with a snort of derision (it appeared to be new to him), and immediately he improvised this parody:
If the wild bowler thinks he bowls,
Or if the batsman thinks he's bowled,
They know not, poor misguided souls,
They, too, shall perish unconsoled.
I am the batsman and the bat,
I am the bowler and the ball,
The umpire, the pavilion cat,
The roller, pitch and stumps, and all
This would make a pavilion cat laugh, and I felt that Emerson was done for. But when Lang had left me, and I was once more master of my mind, I reflected that the parody was but a parody, wonderful for its neatness and quickness, and for its seizure of what was awkward in the roll of Emerson's diction, but essentially superficial. However, what would wit be if it were profound? I must leave it there, feeling that I have not explained why Lang's extraordinary drollery in conversation so often left on the memory a certain sensation of distress.
But this was not the characteristic of his humour at its best, as it was displayed throughout the happiest period of his work. If, as seems possible, it is as an essayist that he will ultimately take his place in English literature, this element will continue to delight fresh generations of enchanted readers. I cannot imagine that the preface to his translation of " Theocritus," "Letters to Dead Authors," "In the Wrong Paradise," " Old Friends," and " Essays in Little " will ever lose their charm; but future admirers will have to pick their way to them through a tangle of history and anthropology and mythology, where there may be left no perfume and no sweetness. I am impatient to see this vast mass of writing reduced to the limits of its author's delicate, true, but somewhat evasive and ephemeral. genius. However, as far as the circumstances of his temperament permitted, Andrew Lang has left with us the memory of one of our most surprising contemporaries, a man of letters who laboured without cessation from boyhood to the grave, who pursued his ideal with indomitable activity and perseverance, and who was never betrayed except by the loftiness of his own endeavour. Lang's only misfortune was not to be completely in contact with life, and his work will survive exactly where he was most faithful to his innermost illusions.
Since the first edition of this book appeared (1897) a considerable number of new and startling ghost stories, British, Foreign and Colonial, not yet published, have reached me. Second Sight abounds. Crystal Gazing has also advanced in popularity. For a singular series of such visions, in which distant persons and places, unknown to the gazer, were correctly described by her, I may refer to my book, The Making of Religion (1898). A memorial stone has been erected on the scene of the story called “The Foul Fords” (p. 269), so that tale is likely to endure in tradition.
The chief purpose of this book is, if fortune helps, to entertain people interested in the kind of narratives here collected. For the sake of orderly arrangement, the stories are classed in different grades, as they advance from the normal and familiar to the undeniably startling. At the same time an account of the current theories of Apparitions is offered, in language as free from technicalities as possible. According to modern opinion every “ghost” is a “hallucination,” a false perception, the perception of something which is not present.
It has not been thought necessary to discuss the psychological and physiological processes involved in perception, real or false. Every “hallucination” is a perception, “as good and true a sensation as if there were a real object there. The object happens not to be there, that is all.” We are not here concerned with the visions of insanity, delirium, drugs, drink, remorse, or anxiety, but with “sporadic cases of hallucination, visiting people only once in a lifetime, which seems to be by far the most frequent type”. “These,” says Mr. James, “are on any theory hard to understand in detail. They are often extraordinarily complete; and the fact that many of them are reported as veridical, that is, as coinciding with real events, such as accidents, deaths, etc., of the persons seen, is an additional complication of the phenomenon.” A ghost, if seen, is undeniably so far a “hallucination” that it gives the impression of the presence of a real person, in flesh, blood, and usually clothes. No such person in flesh, blood, and clothes, is actually there. So far, at least, every ghost is a hallucination, “that” in the language of Captain Cuttle, “you may lay to,” without offending science, religion, or common-sense. And that, in brief, is the modern doctrine of ghosts.
The old doctrine of “ghosts” regarded them as actual “spirits” of the living or the dead, freed from the flesh or from the grave. This view, whatever else may be said for it, represents the simple philosophy of the savage, which may be correct or erroneous. About the time of the Reformation, writers, especially Protestant writers, preferred to look on apparitions as the work of deceitful devils, who masqueraded in the aspect of the dead or living, or made up phantasms out of “compressed air”. The common-sense of the eighteenth century dismissed all apparitions as “dreams” or hoaxes, or illusions caused by real objects misinterpreted, such as rats, cats, white posts, maniacs at large, sleep-walkers, thieves, and so forth. Modern science, when it admits the possibility of occasional hallucinations in the sane and healthy, also admits, of course, the existence of apparitions. These, for our purposes, are hallucinatory appearances occurring in the experience of people healthy and sane. The difficulty begins when we ask whether these appearances ever have any provoking mental cause outside the minds of the people who experience them—any cause arising in the minds of others, alive or dead. This is a question which orthodox psychology does not approach, standing aside from any evidence which may be produced.
This book does not pretend to be a convincing, but merely an illustrative collection of evidence. It may, or may not, suggest to some readers the desirableness of further inquiry; the author certainly does not hope to do more, if as much.
It may be urged that many of the stories here narrated come from remote times, and, as the testimony for these cannot be rigidly studied, that the old unauthenticated stories clash with the analogous tales current on better authority in our own day. But these ancient legends are given, not as evidence, but for three reasons: first, because of their merit as mere stories; next, because several of them are now perhaps for the first time offered with a critical discussion of their historical sources; lastly, because the old legends seem to show how the fancy of periods less critical than ours dealt with such facts as are now reported in a dull undramatic manner. Thus (1) the Icelandic ghost stories have peculiar literary merit as simple dramatic narratives. (2) Every one has heard of the Wesley ghost, Sir George Villiers’s spectre, Lord Lyttelton’s ghost, the Beresford ghost, Mr. Williams’s dream of Mr. Perceval’s murder, and so forth. But the original sources have not, as a rule, been examined in the ordinary spirit of calm historical criticism, by aid of a comparison of the earliest versions in print or manuscript. (3) Even ghost stories, as a rule, have some basis of fact, whether fact of hallucination, or illusion, or imposture. They are, at lowest, “human documents”. Now, granting such facts (of imposture, hallucination, or what you will), as our dull, modern narratives contain, we can regard these facts, or things like these, as the nuclei which our less critical ancestors elaborated into their extraordinary romances. In this way the belief in demoniacal possession (distinguished, as such, from madness and epilepsy) has its nucleus, some contend, in the phenomena of alternating personalities in certain patients. Their characters, ideas, habits, and even voices change, and the most obvious solution of the problem, in the past, was to suppose that a new alien personality—a “devil”—had entered into the sufferer.
Again, the phenomena occurring in “haunted houses” (whether caused, or not, by imposture or hallucination, or both) were easily magnified into such legends as that of Grettir and Glam, and into the monstrosities of the witch trials. Once more the simple hallucination of a dead person’s appearance in his house demanded an explanation. This was easily given by evolving a legend that he was a spirit, escaped from purgatory or the grave, to fulfil a definite purpose. The rarity of such purposeful ghosts in an age like ours, so rich in ghost stories, must have a cause. That cause is, probably, a dwindling of the myth-making faculty.
Any one who takes these matters seriously, as facts in human nature, must have discovered the difficulty of getting evidence at first hand. This arises from several causes. First, the cock-sure common-sense of the years from 1660 to 1850, or so, regarded every one who had experience of a hallucination as a dupe, a lunatic, or a liar. In this healthy state of opinion, eminent people like Lord Brougham kept their experience to themselves, or, at most, nervously protested that they “were sure it was only a dream”. Next, to tell the story was, often, to enter on a narrative of intimate, perhaps painful, domestic circumstances. Thirdly, many persons now refuse information as a matter of “principle,” or of “religious principle,” though it is difficult to see where either principle or religion is concerned, if the witness is telling what he believes to be true. Next, some devotees of science aver that these studies may bring back faith by a side wind, and, with faith, the fires of Smithfield and the torturing of witches. These opponents are what Professor Huxley called “dreadful consequences argufiers,” when similar reasons were urged against the doctrine of evolution. Their position is strongest when they maintain that these topics have a tendency to befog the intellect. A desire to prove the existence of “new forces” may beget indifference to logic and to the laws of evidence. This is true, and we have several dreadful examples among men otherwise scientific. But all studies have their temptations. Many a historian, to prove the guilt or innocence of Queen Mary, has put evidence, and logic, and common honesty far from him. Yet this is no reason for abandoning the study of history.
There is another class of difficulties. As anthropology becomes popular, every inquirer knows what customs he ought to find among savages, so, of course, he finds them. In the same way, people may now know what customs it is orthodox to find among ghosts, and may pretend to find them, or may simulate them by imposture. The white sheet and clanking chains are forsaken for a more realistic rendering of the ghostly part. The desire of social notoriety may beget wanton fabrications. In short, all studies have their perils, and these are among the dangers which beset the path of the inquirer into things ghostly. He must adopt the stoical maxim: “Be sober and do not believe”—in a hurry.
If there be truth in even one case of “telepathy,” it will follow that the human soul is a thing endowed with attributes not yet recognised by science. It cannot be denied that this is a serious consideration, and that very startling consequences might be deduced from it; such beliefs, indeed, as were generally entertained in the ages of Christian darkness which preceded the present era of enlightenment. But our business in studies of any kind is, of course, with truth, as we are often told, not with the consequences, however ruinous to our most settled convictions, or however pernicious to society.
The very opposite objection comes from the side of religion. These things we learn, are spiritual mysteries into which men must not inquire. This is only a relic of the ancient opinion that he was an impious character who first launched a boat, God having made man a terrestrial animal. Assuredly God put us into a world of phenomena, and gave us inquiring minds. We have as much right to explore the phenomena of these minds as to explore the ocean. Again, if it be said that our inquiries may lead to an undignified theory of the future life (so far they have not led to any theory at all), that, also, is the position of the Dreadful Consequences Argufier. Lastly, “the stories may frighten children”. For children the book is not written, any more than if it were a treatise on comparative anatomy.
The author has frequently been asked, both publicly and privately: “Do you believe in ghosts?” One can only answer: “How do you define a ghost?” I do believe, with all students of human nature, in hallucinations of one, or of several, or even of all the senses. But as to whether such hallucinations, among the sane, are ever caused by psychical influences from the minds of others, alive or dead, not communicated through the ordinary channels of sense, my mind is in a balance of doubt. It is a question of evidence.
In this collection many stories are given without the real names of the witnesses. In most of the cases the real names, and their owners, are well known to myself. In not publishing the names I only take the common privilege of writers on medicine and psychology. In other instances the names are known to the managers of the Society for Psychical Research, who have kindly permitted me to borrow from their collections.
While this book passed through the press, a long correspondence called “On the Trail of a Ghost” appeared in The Times. It illustrated the copious fallacies which haunt the human intellect. Thus it was maintained by some persons, and denied by others, that sounds of unknown origin were occasionally heard in a certain house. These, it was suggested, might (if really heard) be caused by slight seismic disturbances. Now many people argue, “Blunderstone House is not haunted, for I passed a night there, and nothing unusual occurred”. Apply this to a house where noises are actually caused by young earthquakes. Would anybody say: “There are no seismic disturbances near Blunderstone House, for I passed a night there, and none occurred”? Why should a noisy ghost (if there is such a thing) or a hallucinatory sound (if there is such a thing), be expected to be more punctual and pertinacious than a seismic disturbance? Again, the gentleman who opened the correspondence with a long statement on the negative side, cried out, like others, for scientific publicity, for names of people and places. But neither he nor his allies gave their own names. He did not precisely establish his claim to confidence by publishing his version of private conversations. Yet he expected science and the public to believe his anonymous account of a conversation, with an unnamed person, at which he did not and could not pretend to have been present. He had a theory of sounds heard by himself which could have been proved, or disproved, in five minutes, by a simple experiment. But that experiment he does not say that he made.
This kind of evidence is thought good enough on the negative side. It certainly would not be accepted by any sane person for the affirmative side. If what is called psychical research has no other results, at least it enables us to perceive the fallacies which can impose on the credulity of common-sense.
In preparing this collection of tales, I owe much to Mr. W. A. Craigie, who translated the stories from the Gaelic and the Icelandic; to Miss Elspeth Campbell, who gives a version of the curious Argyll tradition of Ticonderoga (rhymed by Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson, who put a Cameron where a Campbell should be); to Miss Violet Simpson, who found the Windham MS. about the Duke of Buckingham’s story, and made other researches; and to Miss Goodrich Freer, who pointed out the family version of “The Tyrone Ghost”.
Arbuthnot on Political Lying. Begin with“Great Swingeing Falsehoods”. The Opposite Method to be used in telling Ghost Stones. Begin with the more Familiar and Credible. Sleep. Dreams. Ghosts are identical with Waking Dreams. Possibility of being Asleep when we think we are Awake. Dreams shared by several People. Story of the Dog Fanti. The Swithinbank Dream. Common Features of Ghosts and Dreams. Mark Twain’s Story. Theory of Common-sense. Not Logical. Fulfilled Dreams. The Pig in the Palace. The Mignonette. Dreams of Reawakened Memory. The Lost Cheque. The Ducks’ Eggs. The Lost Key. Drama in Dreams. The Lost Securities. The Portuguese Gold-piece. St. Augustine’s Story. The Two Curmas. Knowledge acquired in Dreams. The Assyrian Priest. The Déjà Vu. “I have been here before.” Sir Walter’s Experience. Explanations. The Knot in the Shutter. Transition to Stranger Dreams.
Arbuthnot, in his humorous work on Political Lying, commends the Whigs for occasionally trying the people with “great swingeing falsehoods”. When these are once got down by the populace, anything may follow without difficulty. Excellently as this practice has worked in politics (compare the warming-pan lie of 1688), in the telling of ghost stories a different plan has its merits. Beginning with the common-place and familiar, and therefore credible, with the thin end of the wedge, in fact, a wise narrator will advance to the rather unusual, the extremely rare, the undeniably startling, and so arrive at statements which, without this discreet and gradual initiation, a hasty reader might, justly or unjustly, dismiss as “great swingeing falsehoods”.
The nature of things and of men has fortunately made this method at once easy, obvious, and scientific. Even in the rather fantastic realm of ghosts, the stories fall into regular groups, advancing in difficulty, like exercises in music or in a foreign language. We therefore start from the easiest Exercises in Belief, or even from those which present no difficulty at all. The defect of the method is that easy stories are dull reading. But the student can “skip”. We begin with common every-night dreams.
Sleeping is as natural as waking; dreams are nearly as frequent as every-day sensations, thoughts, and emotions. But dreams, being familiar, are credible; it is admitted that people do dream; we reach the less credible as we advance to the less familiar. For, if we think for a moment, the alleged events of ghostdom—apparitions of all sorts—are precisely identical with the every-night phenomena of dreaming, except for the avowed element of sleep in dreams.
In dreams, time and space are annihilated, and two severed lovers may be made happy. In dreams, amidst a grotesque confusion of things remembered and things forgot, we see the events of the past (I have been at Culloden fight and at the siege of Troy); we are present in places remote; we behold the absent; we converse with the dead, and we may even (let us say by chance coincidence) forecast the future. All these things, except the last, are familiar to everybody who dreams. It is also certain that similar, but yet more vivid, false experiences may be produced, at the word of the hypnotiser, in persons under the hypnotic sleep. A hypnotised man will take water for wine, and get drunk on it.
Now, the ghostly is nothing but the experience, when men are awake, or apparently awake, of the every-night phenomena of dreaming. The vision of the absent seen by a waking, or apparently waking, man is called “a wraith”; the waking, or apparently waking, vision of the dead is called “a ghost”. Yet, as St. Augustine says, the absent man, or the dead man, may know no more of the vision, and may have no more to do with causing it, than have the absent or the dead whom we are perfectly accustomed to see in our dreams. Moreover, the comparatively rare cases in which two or more waking people are alleged to have seen the same “ghost,” simultaneously or in succession, have their parallel in sleep, where two or more persons simultaneously dream the same dream. Of this curious fact let us give one example: the names only are altered.
Mrs. Ogilvie of Drumquaigh had a poodle named Fanti. Her family, or at least those who lived with her, were her son, the laird, and three daughters. Of these the two younger, at a certain recent date, were paying a short visit to a neighbouring country house. Mrs. Ogilvie was accustomed to breakfast in her bedroom, not being in the best of health. One morning Miss Ogilvie came down to breakfast and said to her brother, “I had an odd dream; I dreamed Fanti went mad”.
“Well, that is odd,” said her brother. “So did I. We had better not tell mother; it might make her nervous.”
Miss Ogilvie went up after breakfast to see the elder lady, who said, “Do turn out Fanti; I dreamed last night that he went mad and bit”.
In the afternoon the two younger sisters came home.
“How did you enjoy yourselves?” one of the others asked.
“We didn’t sleep well. I was dreaming that Fanti went mad when Mary wakened me, and said she had dreamed Fanti went mad, and turned into a cat, and we threw him into the fire.”
Thus, as several people may see the same ghost at once, several people may dream the same dream at once. As a matter of fact, Fanti lived, sane and harmless, “all the length of all his years”.
Now, this anecdote is credible, certainly is credible by people who know the dreaming family. It is nothing more than a curiosity of coincidences; and, as Fanti remained a sober, peaceful hound, in face of five dreamers, the absence of fulfilment increases the readiness of belief. But compare the case of the Swithinbanks. Mr. Swithinbank, on 20th May, 1883, signed for publication a statement to this effect:—
During the Peninsular war his father and his two brothers were quartered at Dover. Their family were at Bradford. The brothers slept in various quarters of Dover camp. One morning they met after parade. “O William, I have had a queer dream,” said Mr. Swithinbank’s father. “So have I,” replied the brother, when, to the astonishment of both, the other brother, John, said, “I have had a queer dream as well. I dreamt that mother was dead.” “So did I,” said each of the other brothers. And the mother had died on the night of this dreaming. Mrs. Hudson, daughter of one of the brothers, heard the story from all three.
The distribution of the fulfilled is less than that of the unfulfilled dream by three to five. It has the extra coincidence of the death. But as it is very common to dream of deaths, some such dreams must occasionally hit the target.
Other examples might be given of shared dreams: they are only mentioned here to prove that all the waking experiences of things ghostly, such as visions of the absent and of the dead, and of the non-existent, are familiar, and may even be common simultaneously to several persons, in sleep. That men may sleep without being aware of it, even while walking abroad; that we may drift, while we think ourselves awake, into a semi-somnolent state for a period of time perhaps almost imperceptible is certain enough. Now, the peculiarity of sleep is to expand or contract time, as we may choose to put the case. Alfred Maury, the well-known writer on Greek religion, dreamed a long, vivid dream of the Reign of Terror, of his own trial before a Revolutionary Tribunal, and of his execution, in the moment of time during which he was awakened by the accidental fall of a rod in the canopy of his bed, which touched him on the neck. Thus even a prolonged interview with a ghost may conceivably be, in real time, a less than momentary dream occupying an imperceptible tenth of a second of somnolence, the sleeper not realising that he has been asleep.
Mark Twain, who is seriously interested in these subjects, has published an experience illustrative of such possibilities. He tells his tale at considerable length, but it amounts to this:—
Mark was smoking his cigar outside the door of his house when he saw a man, a stranger, approaching him. Suddenly he ceased to be visible! Mark, who had long desired to see a ghost, rushed into his house to record the phenomenon. There, seated on a chair in the hall, was the very man, who had come on some business. As Mark’s negro footman acts, when the bell is rung, on the principle, “Perhaps they won’t persevere,” his master is wholly unable to account for the disappearance of the visitor, whom he never saw passing him or waiting at his door—except on the theory of an unconscious nap. Now, a disappearance is quite as mystical as an appearance, and much less common.
This theory, that apparitions come in an infinitesimal moment of sleep, while a man is conscious of his surroundings and believes himself to be awake was the current explanation of ghosts in the eighteenth century. Any educated man who “saw a ghost” or “had a hallucination” called it a “dream,” as Lord Brougham and Lord Lyttelton did. But, if the death of the person seen coincided with his appearance to them, they illogically argued that, out of the innumerable multitude of dreams, some must coincide, accidentally, with facts. They strove to forget that though dreams in sleep are universal and countless, “dreams” in waking hours are extremely rare—unique, for instance, in Lord Brougham’s own experience. Therefore, the odds against chance coincidence are very great.
Dreams only form subjects of good dream-stories when the vision coincides with and adequately represents an unknown event in the past, the present, or the future. We dream, however vividly, of the murder of Rizzio. Nobody is surprised at that, the incident being familiar to most people, in history and art. But, if we dreamed of being present at an unchronicled scene in Queen Mary’s life, and if, after the dream was recorded, a document proving its accuracy should be for the first time recovered, then there is matter for a good dream-story. Again, we dream of an event not to be naturally guessed or known by us, and our dream (which should be recorded before tidings of the fact arrive) tallies with the news of the event when it comes. Or, finally, we dream of an event (recording the dream), and that event occurs in the future. In all these cases the actual occurrence of the unknown event is the only addition to the dream’s usual power of crumpling up time and space.
As a rule such dreams are only mentioned after the event, and so are not worth noticing. Very often the dream is forgotten by the dreamer till he hears of or sees the event. He is then either reminded of his dream by association of ideas or he has never dreamed at all, and his belief that he has dreamed is only a form of false memory, of the common sensation of “having been here before,” which he attributes to an awakened memory of a real dream. Still more often the dream is unconsciously cooked by the narrator into harmony with facts.
As a rule fulfilled dreams deal with the most trivial affairs, and such as, being usual, may readily occur by chance coincidence. Indeed it is impossible to set limits to such coincidence, for it would indeed be extraordinary if extraordinary coincidences never occurred.
To take examples:—
Mrs. Atlay, wife of a late Bishop of Hereford, dreamed one night that there was a pig in the dining-room of the palace. She came downstairs, and in the hall told her governess and children of the dream, before family prayers. When these were over, nobody who was told the story having left the hall in the interval, she went into the dining-room and there was the pig. It was proved to have escaped from the sty after Mrs. Atlay got up. Here the dream is of the common grotesque type; millions of such things are dreamed. The event, the pig in the palace, is unusual, and the coincidence of pig and dream is still more so. But unusual events must occur, and each has millions of dreams as targets to aim at, so to speak. It would be surprising if no such target were ever hit.
Here is another case—curious because the dream was forgotten till the corresponding event occurred, but there was a slight discrepancy between event and dream.
Mrs. Herbert returned with her husband from London to their country home on the Border. They arrived rather late in the day, prepared to visit the garden, and decided to put off the visit till the morrow. At night Mrs. Herbert dreamed that they went into the garden, down a long walk to a mignonette bed near the vinery. The mignonette was black with innumerable bees, and Wilburd, the gardener, came up and advised Mr. and Mrs. Herbert not to go nearer. Next morning the pair went to the garden. The air round the mignonette was dark with wasps. Mrs. Herbert now first remembered and told her dream, adding, “but in the dream they were bees”. Wilburd now came up and advised them not to go nearer, as a wasps’ nest had been injured and the wasps were on the warpath.
Here accidental coincidence is probable enough. There is another class of dreams very useful, and apparently not so very uncommon, that are veracious and communicate correct information, which the dreamer did not know that he knew and was very anxious to know. These are rare enough to be rather difficult to believe. Thus:—
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