Original publication: The Graphic (London, England), June 25, 1881; Issue 604 Our thanks go out to Gerry at Farshores for letting us know that the British Library recently placed over two million pages of 49 national and regional UK newspapers from the 19th and early 20th century online for research.
Everybody has some story to tell of a ghost, and there is no kind of story-telling more attractive. People like something eerie, something that haunts the imagination, and comes in a questionable shape.
Ghosts, it must be owned, have a good deal in their favour; they are not wholly to be pitied. Think of what it must be to act a serious part, albeit a shadowy part, in the world, and to pay no taxes, no butchers' bills, no railway fares, no house rent! Think what a strange experience a ghost has in seeing, even when unseen, in hearing when unheard, in moving without obstruction, in carrying out his purpose free from the tangible obstacles that stand in the way of mortals.
Ghosts are generally lonely, they do not affect a crowd; the glare of gas is not for these ethereal creatures, who love nothing brighter than moonlight, and prefer an ancient house like the Moated Grange of Mariana to the town mansion of the millionaire.
Money, by the way, is never a personal object with ghosts. If they trouble themselves about lost treasure, it is for the sake of the living. Where could they put it if they had it? Their desires must be limited, but that they have desires unsatisfied and inappeasable is proved by their restless activity. The most lethargic ghost takes his "constitutional," and he can be out in all weathers. He is never too hot nor too cold. He makes other people shiver, but he never shivers himself, and his dress in the sharpest weather is of the lightest description. Who ever saw a ghost wrapped in a sou'wester, or habited, if belonging to the fair sex, in a mantle of sealskin ? A ghost's wardrobe needs no inventory.
There are ghosts and ghosts. If the writer of this paper may be allowed to express his personal predilection, he likes quiet ghosts best. There is noise enough in this noisy world, and the ghost that cannot glide about silently ought to be ashamed of itself. There is reason to suspect the ghost that acts like a demon of disorder. The notorious Jeffery, who was always playing his noisy freaks - imp of darkness - that he was upon the Wesley family, was not a desirable inmate of a country parsonage, and there was a certain pugnacious ghost known when in the flesh as Thomas Harris, who is said in the dead of the night to have given an old acquaintance a black eye a highly' improper act, however richly it might have been deserved.
When spirits revisit the glimpses of the moon they should come as Protesilaus came to Laodamia to teach, to soothe, to bless, and not to terrify, but some ghosts, if report be true, delight in mischief, and forget to do their spiriting gently. Mr. Jennings, in his pleasant 11 Rambles among the Hills " tells us how the Castle of Bolsover struck him as a place of mystery, and how from the moment the outer door was closed an influence came over him which he had never felt within any walls before. "It looks like a haunted house' he said to the woman who showed him over the castle, and she replied that it was, and that she had several times seen a lady and gentleman, "come like a flash." "When I have been sitting in the kitchen' she added, "not thinking of any such thing, they stood there, the gentleman with ruffles on, the lady with a scarf round her waist. I never believed in ghosts, but I have seen them. I am used to it now, and don't mind it. But we do not like the noises because they disturb us. Not long ago my husband and I could not sleep at all, and we thought at last that somebody had got shut up in the castle, for some children had been there that day. So we lit a candle and went all over it, but there was nothing, only the noises following us and keeping on worse than ever after we left the rooms, though they stopped while we were in them."
Ghosts such as these disgust their best friends; there is really nothing to be said in their favour. On the other hand, what can be less alarming, or indeed to many of us more soothing, than a visit from such spirits"the beloved, the true-hearted"as came long years ago to visit Mr. Longfellow, or crossed in the ferry-boat with the German poet. No wonder that delighted with his company, he suddenly became more generous than most German poets can afford to be:
Take, oh boatman thrice thy fee;
Take, I give it willingly,
For, invisible to thee,
Spirits twain have crossed with me!
The good old-fashioned ghosts are greatly to be preferred to the ill-conditioned, ill-educated spirits raised in these latter days through the agency of mediums. One has an uneasy suspicion about them. Are they genuine ghosts, and, if genuine, are the poor creatures worth calling up? Seldom can they speak their mother tongue correctly; their verse is doggerel, and their prose, when not vulgar, is commonplace. There is no elevation of spirit about them, and if that be lacking what has a ghost left?
Ghosts, like men and women, may be divided into classes, Your gentlemanlike and ladylike ghost has no pleasure in frightening people. But there are ghosts of a vulgar order that one would rather not encounter in the moonlight. At a poet's house in the country a friend of the writer's was visited one night by a lady ghost who, standing at the foot of his bed, gazed on him with such imploring eyes. The room, he afterwards learnt, was haunted, but haunted by a refined and well-bred spirit. She (or it) might have scared even a strongman out of his wits, and ghosts there are, so at least people say, whose advent is as terrifying as the appearance at Rochester's mad wife to Jane Eyre.
Yet ghosts, however troubled they may be, are safer than mad women, and one has only to face them boldly in order to lay them. Still, it is not pleasant to have even a shadowy visitor bending over one at night, and we can sympathise with the fright of the Scotchman who saw what he supposed to be a man approach his bed and draw back the curtains. Thinking it was somebody who had concealed himself there with ill intentions, he struck out violently at the figure, when to his horror his arm passed through it. A visitor of this sort is objectionable, and ghosts that resort to active mischief, such as pulling off the bed-clothes with invisible hands, or upsetting everything in the room, are still less to be commended.
It has just struck the writer that some readers of The Graphic may not believe in ghosts, and therefore that to them all which he has written is as an idle tale. What is to be said to these sceptics?
"All argument," said Dr. Johnson, "is against the appearance of a spirit after death, all belief is for it." We do not quite agree with Johnson. Few people believe in ghosts until they see them and few people see them. A ghost story, like every other, is dependent upon testimony, and the testimony in certain notable cases has not been strong, but let a ghost once be seen, and provided the apparition cannot be explained by natural causes, and you are sure it is not a phantom due to indigestion, it is really quite in accordance with reason and philosophy to believe in its existence. This at least is a safe conclusion to arrive at. J.D.
FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. The PSICAN website distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes only. No infringement intended. All images, texts, videos, or audio attachments are used assuming "Fair Use"/"Fair Dealing" and, if used here, may be removed at the request of the original copyright holder with limited notice.