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Haunted Houses


Contents:

Reginald Scot on Protestant expulsion of Ghosts. His boast premature. Savage hauntings. Red Indian example. Classical cases. Petrus Thyraeus on Haunted Houses. His examples from patristic literature. Three species of haunting spirits. Demons in disguises. Hallucinations, visual, auditory, and tactile. Are the sounds in Haunted Houses real or hallucinatory? All present do not always hear them. Interments in houses to stop hauntings. Modern example. The Restoration and Scepticism. Exceptional position of Dr. Johnson. Frequency of Haunted Houses in modern Folklore. Researches of the S. P. R. Failure of the Society to see Ghosts. Uncertain behaviour of Ghosts. The Society need a 'seer' or 'sensitive' comrade. The 'type' or normal kind of Haunted Houses. Some natural explanations. Historical continuity of type. Case of Sir Walter Scott. A haunted curacy. Modern instances. Miss Morton's case: a dumb ghost. Ghost, as is believed, of a man of letters. Mr. Harry's ghost raises his mosquito curtains. Columns of light. Mr. Podmore's theory. Hallucinations begotten by natural causes are 'telepathically' transferred, with variations, to strangers at a distance. Example of this process. Incredulity of Mr. Myers. The spontaneous phenomena reproduced at 'seances'. A ghost who followed a young lady. Singular experience of the writer in Haunted Houses. Experience negative. Theory of 'dreams of the dead'. Difficulties of this theory; physical force exerted in dreams. Theory of Mr. James Sully. His unscientific method and carelessness as to evidence. Reflections.


Reginald Scot, the humane author who tried, in his Discovery of Witchcraft, 1584 (xv. 39), to laugh witch trials away, has a triumphant passage on the decline of superstition. 'Where are the soules that swarmed in time past? where are the spirits? who heareth their noises? who seeth their visions?' He decides that the spirits who haunt places and houses, may have gone to Italy, because masses are dear in England. Scot, as an ardent Protestant, conceived that haunted houses were 'a lewd invention,' encouraged, if not originated, by the priests, in support of the doctrine of purgatory. As a matter of fact the belief in 'haunting,' dates from times of savagery, when we may say that every bush has its bogle. The Church had nothing to do with the rise of the belief, though, early in the Reformation, some 'psychical phenomena' were claimed as experimental proofs of the existence of purgatory. Reginald Scot decidedly made his Protestant boast too soon. After 300 years of 'the Trewth,' as Knox called it, the haunted houses are as much part of the popular creed as ever. Houses stand empty, and are said to be 'haunted'. Here not the fact of haunting, but only the existence of the superstition is attested. Thus a house in Berkeley Square was long unoccupied, for reasons perfectly commonplace and intelligible. But the fact that it had no tenants needed to be explained, and was explained by a myth,--there were ghosts in the house! On the other hand, if Reginald Scot asked today, 'Who heareth the noises, who seeth the visions?' we could answer, 'Protestant clergymen, officers in the army, ladies, land-agents, solicitors, representatives of all classes, except the Haunted House Committee of the Psychical Society'.

Before examining the researches and the results of this learned body, we may glance at some earlier industry of investigators. The common savage beliefs are too well known to need recapitulation, and have been treated by Mr. Tylor in his chapter on 'Animism,' {129} and by Mr. Herbert Spencer in Principles of Psychology. The points of difference between these authors need not detain us here. As a rule the spirits which haunt the bush, or the forest, are but vaguely conceived of by the Australian blacks, or Red Men: they may be ghosts of the dead, or they may be casual spirits unattached. An example analogous to European superstition is given by John Tanner in his Narrative of a Captivity among the Red Indians, 1830. In this case one man had slain his brother, or, at least, a man of his own Totem, and was himself put to death by the kindred. The spectres of both haunted a place which the Indians shunned, but Tanner (whose Totem was the same as that of the dead) passed a night on the scene. His dreams, if not his waking moments, for his account is indistinct, were disturbed by the ghosts. It is impossible to ascertain how far this particular superstition was coloured by European influences. {130}

Over classical tales we need not linger. Pliny, Plutarch, Suetonius, St. Augustine, Lucian, Plautus (in the Mostellaria), describe, with more or less of seriousness, the apparitions and noises which haunted houses, public baths, and other places. Occasionally a slain man's phantom was anxious that his body should be buried, and the reported phenomena were akin to those in modern popular legends. Sometimes, in the middle ages, and later, the law took cognisance of haunted houses, when the tenant wished to break his lease. A collection of authorities is given elsewhere, in Ghosts before the Law. It is to be noticed that Bouchel, in his Bibliotheque du Droit Francais, chiefly cites classical, not modern, instances.

Among the most careful and exhaustive post-mediaeval writers on haunted houses we must cite Petrus Thyraeus of the Society of Jesus, Doctor in Theology. His work, published at Cologne in 1598, is a quarto of 352 pages, entitled, 'Loca Infesta; That is, Concerning Places Haunted by Mischievous Spirits of Demons and of the Dead. Thereto is added a Tract on Nocturnal Disturbances, which are wont to bode the deaths of Men.' Thyraeus begins, 'That certain places are haunted by spectres and spirits, is no matter of doubt,' wherein a modern reader cannot confidently follow him.

When it comes to establishing his position Thyraeus most provokingly says, 'we omit cases which are recent and of daily occurrence,' such as he heard narrated, during his travels, in 'a certain haunted castle'. A modern inquirer naturally prefers recent examples, which may be inquired into, but the old scholars reposed more confidence in what was written by respected authors, the more ancient the more authoritative. However Thyraeus relies on the anthropological test of evidence, and thinks that his belief is confirmed by the coincident reports of hauntings, 'variis distinctissimisque locis et temporibus,' in the most various times and places. There is something to be said for this view, and the identity of the alleged phenomena, in all lands and ages, does raise a presumption in favour of some kind of abnormal occurrences, or of a common species of hallucinations. Like most of the old authors Thyraeus quotes Augustine's tale of a haunted house, and an exorcism in De Civitate Dei (lib. xxii. ch. viii.). St. Gregory has also a story of one Paschasius, a deacon, who haunted some baths, and was seen by a bishop. {131a} There is a ghost who rode horses, and frightened the religious in the Life of Gregory by Joannes Diaconus (iv. 89). In the Life of Theodorus one Georgius, a disciple of his, mentions a house haunted by stone-throwing sprites, a very common phenomenon in the books of Glanvill, and Increase Mather, in witch trials, and in rural disturbances. Omitting other examples Cardan {131b} is cited for a house at Parma, in which during a hundred years the phantom of an old woman was seen before the death of members of the family. This is a rare case of an Italian Banshie. William of Paris, in Bodin (iii. ch. vi.) tells of a stone-throwing fiend, very active in 1447. The bogey of Bingen, a rapping ghost of 856, is duly chronicled; he also threw stones. The dormitory of some nuns was haunted by a spectre who moaned, tramped noisily around, dragged the sisters out of bed by the feet, and even tickled them nearly to death! This annoyance lasted for three years, so Wierus says. {132} Wodrow chronicles a similar affair at Mellantrae, in Annandale. Thyraeus distinguishes three kinds of haunting sprites, devils, damned souls, and souls in purgatory. Some are mites, mild and sportive; some are truculenti ferocious. Brownies, or fauni, may act in either character, as Secutores et joculatores. They rather aim at teasing than at inflicting harm. They throw stones, lift beds, and make a hubbub and crash with the furniture. Suicides, murderers, and spirits of murdered people, are all apt to haunt houses. The sprites occasionally appear in their proper form, but just as often in disguise: a demon, too, can appear in human shape if so disposed: demons being of their nature deceitful and fond of travesty, as Porphyry teaches us and as Law (1680) illustrates. Whether the spirits of the dead quite know what they are about when they take to haunting, is, in the opinion of Thyraeus, a difficult question. Thomas Aquinas, following St. Augustine, inclines to hold that when there is an apparition of a dead man, the dead man is unconscious of the circumstance. A spirit of one kind or another may be acting in his semblance. Thyraeus rather fancies that the dead man is aware of what is going on.

Hauntings may be visual, auditory, or confined to the sense of touch. Auditory effects are produced by flutterings of air, noises are caused, steps are heard, laughter, and moaning. Lares domestici (brownies) mostly make a noise. Apparitions may be in tactile form of men or animals, or monsters. As for effects, some ghosts push the living and drive them along, as the Bride of Lammermoor, in Law's Memorialls, was 'harled through the house,' by spirits. The spirits of an amorous complexion seem no longer to be numerous, but are objects of interest to Thyraeus as to Increase Mather. Thyraeus now raises the difficult question: 'Are the sounds heard in haunted houses real, or hallucinatory?' Omnis qui a spiritibus fit, simulatus est, specie sui fallit. The spirits having no vocal organs, can only produce noise. In a spiritual hurly-burly, some of the mortals present hear nothing (as we shall note in some modern examples), but may they not be prevented from hearing by the spirits? Or again, the sounds may be hallucinatory and only some mortals may have the power of hearing them. If there are visual, there may also be auditory hallucinations. {133} On the whole Thyraeus thinks that the sounds may be real on some occasions, when all present hear them, hallucinatory on others. But the sounds need not be produced on the furniture, for example, when they seem to be so produced. 'Often we think that the furniture has been all tossed about, when it really has not been stirred.' The classical instance of the disturbances which aroused Scott at Abbotsford, on the death of his agent Bullock, is in point here. 'Often a hammer is heard rapping, when there is no hammer in the house' (p. 82). These are curious references to phenomena, however we explain them, which are still frequently reported.

Thyraeus thinks that the air is agitated when sounds are heard, but that is just the question to be solved.

As for visual phantasms, these Thyraeus regards as hallucinations produced by spirits on the human senses, not as external objective entities. He now asks why the sense of touch is affected usually as if by a cold body. Beyond assuming the influence of spirits over the air, and, apparently, their power of using dead bodies as vehicles for themselves, Thyraeus comes to no distinct conclusion. He endeavours, at great length, to distinguish between haunters who are ghosts of the dead, and haunters who are demons, or spirits unattached. The former wail and moan, the latter are facetious. He decides that to bury dead bodies below the hearth does not prevent haunting, for 'the hearth has no such efficacy'. Such bodies are not very unfrequently found in old English houses, the reason for this strange interment is not obvious, but perhaps it is explained by the superstition which Thyraeus mentions. One might imagine that to bury people up and down a house would rather secure haunting than prevent it. And, indeed, at Passenham Rectory, where the Rev. G. M. Capell found seven skeletons in his dining-room, in 1874, Mrs. Montague Crackanthrope and her nurse were 'obsessed' by 'a feeling that some one was in the room,' when some one was not. {135} Perhaps seven burials were not sufficient to prevent haunting. The conclusion of the work of Thyraeus is devoted to exorcisms, and orthodox methods of expelling spirits. The knockings which herald a death are attributed to the Lares, a kind of petty mischievous demons unattached. Such is the essence of the learned Jesuit's work, and the strange thing is that, in an age of science, people are still discussing his problems, and, stranger still, that the reported phenomena remain the same.

That the Church in the case of Thyraeus, and many others; that medical science, in the person of Wierus (b. 1515); that law, in the book of Bouchel, should have gravely canvassed the topic of haunted houses, was, of course, very natural in the dark ages before the restoration of the Stuarts, and the founding of the Royal Society. Common-sense, and 'drolling Sadduceeism,' came to their own, in England, with the king, with Charles II. After May 29, 1660, Webster and Wagstaffe mocked at bogles, if Glanvill and More took them seriously.

Before the Restoration it was distinctly dangerous to laugh at witchcraft, ghosts and hauntings. But the laughers came in with the merry monarch, and less by argument than by ridicule, by inveighing against the horror, too, of the hideous witch prosecutions, the laughers gradually brought hauntings and apparitions into contempt. Few educated people dared to admit that their philosophy might not be wholly exhaustive. Even ladies sneered at Dr. Johnson because he, having no dread of common-sense before his eyes, was inclined to hold that there might be some element of truth in a world-old and world-wide belief; and the romantic Anna Seward told, without accepting it, Scott's tale of 'The Tapestried chamber'. That a hundred years after the highday and triumph of common-sense, people of education should be found gravely investigating all that common- sense had exploded, is a comfortable thought to the believer in Progress. The world does not stand still.

A hundred years after the blue stockings looked on Johnson as the last survivor, the last of the Mohicans of superstition, the Psychical Society can collect some 400 cases of haunted houses in England.

Ten years ago, in 1884, the society sifted out nineteen stories as in 'the first class,' and based on good first-hand evidence. Their analysis of the reports led them to think that there is a certain genuine type of story, and, that when a tale 'differs widely from the type, it proves to be incorrect, or unattainable from an authentic source'. This is very much the conclusion to which the writer is brought by historical examination of stories about hauntings. With exceptions, to be indicated, these tales all approximate to a type, and that is not the type of the magazine story.

It may be well, in the first place, to make some negative statements as to what the committee does not discover. First, it has never yet hired haunted house in which the sights and sounds continued during the tenancy of the curious observers. {137} The most obvious inference is that the earlier observers who saw and heard abnormal things were unscientific, convivial, nervous, hysterical, or addicted to practical joking. This, however, is not the only possible explanation. As a celebrated prophet, by his own avowal had been 'known to be steady for weeks at a time,' so, even in a regular haunted house, the ghost often takes a holiday. A case is well known to the writer in which a ghost began his manoeuvres soon after a family entered the house. It made loud noises, it opened doors, turning the handle as the lady of the house walked about, it pulled her hair when she was in bed, plucked her dress, produced lights, and finally appeared visibly, a hag dressed in grey, to several persons. Then as if sated, the ghost struck work for years, when it suddenly began again, was as noisy as ever, and appeared to a person who had not seen it before, but who made a spirited if unsuccessful attempt to run it to earth.

The truth is, that magazine stories and superstitious exaggerations have spoiled us for ghosts. When we hear of a haunted house, we imagine that the ghost is always on view, or that he has a benefit night, at certain fixed dates, when you know where to have him. These conceptions are erroneous, and a house may be haunted, though nothing desirable occurs in presence of the committee. Moreover the committee, as far as the writer is aware, have neglected to add a seer to their number. This mistake, if it has been made, is really wanton. It is acknowledged that not every one has 'a nose for a ghost,' as a character of George Eliot's says, or eyes or ears for a ghost. It is thought very likely that, where several people see an apparition simultaneously, the spiritual or psychical or imaginative 'impact' is addressed to one, and by him, or her (usually her) handed on to the rest of the society. Now, if the committee do not provide themselves with a good 'sensitive' comrade, what can they expect, but what they get, that is, nothing? A witch in an old Scotch trial says, of her 'Covin,' or 'Circle,' 'We could do no great thing without our Maiden'. The committee needs a Maiden, as a Covin needed one, and among the visionaries of the Psychical Society, there must be some young lady who should be on the House Committee. Yet one writer in the Society's Proceedings who has a very keen scent for an impostor, if not for a ghost, avers that, from the evidence, she believes that they are examining facts, and not the origin of fables.

These facts, as was said, differ from the stories in 'Christmas numbers'. The ghost in typical reports seldom or never speaks. It has no message to convey, or, if it has a message, it does not convey it. It does not unfold some tragedy of the past: in fact it is very seldom capable of being connected with any definite known dead person. The figure seen sometimes 'varies with the seer'. {139} In other cases, however, different people attest having seen the same phantasm. Finally a new house seems just as likely to be haunted as an old house, and the committee appears to have no special knowledge of very ancient family ghosts, such as Pearlin Jean, the Luminous Boy of Corby, or the rather large company of spectres popularly supposed to make themselves at home at Glamis Castle.

What then is the type, the typical haunted house, from which, if narratives vary much, they are apt to break down under cross- examination?

The phenomena are usually phenomena of sight, or sound, or both. As a rule the sounds are footsteps, rustling of dresses, knocks, raps, heavy bangs, noises as of dragging heavy weights, and of disarranging heavy furniture. These sometimes occur freely, where nobody can testify to having seen anything spectral. Next we have phantasms, mostly of figures beheld for a moment with 'the tail of the eye' or in going along a passage, or in entering a room where nobody is found, or standing beside a bed, perhaps in a kind of self-luminous condition. Sometimes these spectres are taken by visitors for real people, but the real people cannot be found; sometimes they are at once recognised as phantasms, because they are semi-transparent, or look very malignant, or because they glide and do not walk, or are luminous, or for some other excellent reason. The combination, in due proportions, of pretty frequent inexplicable noises, with occasional aimless apparitions, makes up the type of orthodox modern haunted house story. The difficulty of getting evidence worth looking at (except for its uniformity) is obviously great. Noises may be naturally caused in very many ways: by winds, by rats, by boughs of trees, by water pipes, by birds. The writer has known a very satisfactory series of footsteps in an historical Scotch house, to be dispelled by a modification of the water pipes. Again he has heard a person of distinction mimic the noises made by his family ghosts (which he preserved from tests as carefully as Don Quixote did his helmet) and the performance was an admirable imitation of the wind in a spout. There are noises, however, which cannot be thus cheaply disposed of, and among them are thundering whacks on the walls of rooms, which continue in spite of all efforts to detect imposture. These phenomena, says Kiesewetter, were known to the Acadians of old, a circumstance for which he quotes no authority. {140a}

Paracelsus calls the knocks pulsatio mortuorum, in his fragment on 'Souls of the Dead,' and thinks that the sounds predict misfortune, a very common belief. {140b} Lavaterus says, that such disturbances, in unfinished houses are a token of good luck!

Again there is the noise made apparently by violent movement of heavy furniture, which on immediate examination (as in Scott's case at Abbotsford) is found not to have been moved. The writer is acquainted with a dog, a collie, which was once shut up alone in a room where this disturbance occurred. The dog was much alarmed and howled fearfully, but it soon ceased to weigh on his spirits. When phantasms are occasionally seen by respectable witnesses, where these noises and movements occur, the haunted house is of a healthy, orthodox, modern type. But the phenomena are nothing less than modern, for Mather, Sinclair, Paracelsus, Wierus, Glanvill, Bovet, Baxter and other old writers are full of precisely these combinations of sounds and sights, while many cases occur in old French literature, old Latin literature, and among races of the lower barbaric and savage grades of culture. One or two curious circumstances have rather escaped the notice of philosophers though not of Thyraeus. First, the loudest of the unexplained sounds are occasionally not audible to all, so that (as when the noise seems to be caused by furniture dragged about) we may conjecture with Thyraeus, that there is no real movement of the atmosphere, that the apparent crash is an auditory hallucination. The planks and heavy objects at Abbotsford had not been stirred, as the loud noises overhead indicated, when Scott came to examine them.

In a dreadfully noisy curacy vouched for by 'a well-known Church dignitary,' who occupied the place, there was usually a frightful crash as of iron bars thrown down, at 2 a.m. on a Sunday morning. All the boxes and heavy material in a locked set of attics, seemed to be dancing about, but were never found to have been stirred. Yet this clergyman discovered that 'the great Sunday crash might manifest itself to some persons in the house without his wife or himself being conscious of it. Knowing how overwhelming the sound always appeared to me when I did hear it, I cannot but consider this one of the most wonderful things in the whole business.' {142}

In this case, in a house standing hundreds of yards apart from any neighbour, and occupied only by a parson, his wife, and one servant, these phenomena lasted for a year, with great regularity. There were the usual footsteps, the ordinary rappings were angry when laughed at, and the clergyman when he left at the end of a year, was as far as ever from having detected any cause. Indeed it is not easy to do so. A friend of the writer's, an accomplished man of law, was once actually consulted, in the interests of an enraged squire, as to how he could bring a suit against somebody for a series of these inexplicable disturbances. But the law contained no instrument for his remedy.

From the same report of the S. P. R. we take another typical case. A lady, in an old house, saw, in 1873, a hideous hag watching her in bed; she kept the tale to herself, but, a fortnight later, her brother, a solicitor, was not a whit less alarmed by a similar and similarly situated phenomenon. In this house dresses were plucked at, heavy blows were struck, heavy footsteps went about, there were raps at doors, and nobody was ever any the wiser as to the cause. Here it may be observed that a ghost's power of making a noise, and exerting what seems to be great physical energy, is often in inverse ratio to his power of making himself generally visible, or, at all events, to his inclination so to do. Thus there is a long record of a haunted house, by the chief observer, Miss Morton, in P. S. P. R., pt. xxii. p. 311. A lady had died of habits too convivial, in 1878. In April, 1882, Miss Morton's family entered, but nobody saw the ghost till Miss Morton viewed it in June. The appearance was that of a tall lady in widow's weeds, hiding her face with a handkerchief. From 1882 to 1884, Miss Morton saw the spectre six times, but did not name it to her family. Her sister saw the appearance in 1882, a maid saw it in 1883, and two boys beheld it in the same year. Miss Morton used to follow the appearance downstairs and speak to it, but it merely gave a slight gasp, and seemed unable to converse. By way of testing the spectre, Miss Morton stretched threads at night from the railing of the stair to the wall, but the ghost descended without disturbing them. Yet her footsteps sounded on the stairs. This is, in fact, a crucial difficulty about ghosts. They are material enough to make a noise as they walk, but not material enough to brush away a thread! This ghost, whose visible form was so much en evidence, could, or did, make no noise at all, beyond light pushes at doors, and very light footsteps. In the curacy already described, noises were made enough to waken a parish, but no form was ever seen. Briefly, for this ghost there is a cloud of witnesses, all solemnly signing their depositions. These two examples are at the opposite poles between which ghostly manifestations vary, in haunted houses.

A brief precis of 'cases' may show how these elements of noise, on one side, and apparitions, on the other, are commonly blended. In a detached villa, just outside 'the town of C.,' Mrs. W. remarks a figure of a tall dark-haired man peeping round the corner of a folding door. She does not mention the circumstance. Two months later she sees the same sorrowful face in the drawing-room. This time she tells her husband. Later in the same month, when playing cricket with her children, she sees the face 'peeping round from the kitchen door'. Rather later she heard a deep voice say in a sorrowful tone, 'I can't find it'; something slaps her on the back. Her step-daughter who had not heard of the phantasm, sees the same pale dark-moustached face, 'peeping round the folding doors'. She is then told Mrs W.'s story. Her little brother, later, sees the figure simultaneously with herself. She also hears the voice say, 'I can't find it,' at the same moment as Mrs. W. hears it. A year later, she sees the figure at the porch, in a tall hat! Neither lady had enjoyed any other hallucination. Nothing is known of the melancholy spectre, probably the ghost of a literary person, searching, always searching, for a manuscript poem by some total stranger who had worried him into his grave, and not left him at peace even there. This is a very solemn and touching story, and appeals tenderly and sadly to all persons of letters who suffer from the unasked for manuscripts of the general public.

2. Some ladies and servants in a house in Hyde Park Place, see at intervals a phantom housemaid: she is also seen by a Mr. Bird. There is no story about a housemaid, and there are no noises. This is not an interesting tale.

3. A Hindoo native woman is seen to enter a locked bath-room, where she is not found on inquiry. A woman had been murdered there some years before. The percipient, General Sir Arthur Becher, had seen other uncanny visions. A little boy, wakened out of sleep, said he saw an ayah. Perhaps he did.

4. A Mr. Harry, in the South of Europe, saw a white female figure glide through his library into his bedroom. Later, his daughters beheld a similar phenomenon. Mr. Harry, a gentleman of sturdy common-sense, 'dared his daughters to talk of any such nonsense as ghosts, as they might be sure apparitions were only in the imagination of nervous people'. He himself saw the phantasm seven or eight times in his bedroom, and twice in the library. On one occasion it lifted up the mosquito curtains and stared at Mr. Harry. As in the case of meeting an avalanche, 'a weak-minded man would pray, sir, would pray; a strong-minded man would swear, sir, would swear'. Mr. Harry was a strong-minded man, and behaved 'in a concatenation accordingly,' although Petrus Thyraeus says that there is no use in swearing at ghosts. The phantasm seemed to be about thirty-five, her features were described as 'rather handsome,' and (unromantically) as 'oblong'. A hallucination, we need hardly say, would not raise the mosquito curtains, this ghost had more heart in it than most.

5. Various people see 'a column of light vaguely shaped like a woman,' moving about in a room of a house in Sussex. One servant, who slept in the room in hopes of a private view, saw 'a ball of light with a sort of halo round it'. Again, in a very pretty story, the man who looked after an orphan asylum saw a column of light above the bed of one of the children. Next morning the little boy declared that his mother had come to visit him, probably in a dream.

On this matter of lights {146} Mr. Podmore enters into argument with Mr. Frederick Myers. Mr. Myers, on the whole, believes that the phenomena of haunted houses are caused by influences of some sort from the minds of the dead. Mr. Podmore, if we understand him holds that some living person has had some empty hallucination, in a house, and that this is 'telepathically' handed on, perhaps to the next tenant, who may know nothing about either the person or the vision. Thus, a Miss Morris, much vexed by ghostly experiences, left a certain house in December, 1886. Nearly a year later, in November, 1887, a Mrs. G. came in. Mrs. G. did not know Miss Morris, nor had she heard of the disturbances. However sobs, and moans, and heavy thumps, and noises of weighty objects thrown about, and white faces, presently drove Mrs. G. to seek police protection. This only roused the ghost's ambition, and he 'came' as a man with freckles, also he walked about, shook beds, and exhibited lights. A figure in black, with a white face, now displayed itself: barristers and clergymen investigated, but to no purpose. They saw figures, heard crashes, and the divine did a little Anglican exorcism. The only story about the house showed that a woman had hanged herself with a skipping rope in the 'top back bedroom,' in 1879. Here are plenty of phenomena, apparitions male and female. But Miss Morris, in addition to hearing noises, only saw a pale woman in black.

Mr. Podmore's theory comes in thus: 'the later experiences may have been started by thought transference from Miss Morris, whose thoughts, no doubt, occasionally turned to the house in which she had suffered so much agitation and alarm'. Moreover 'real noises' may have 'suggested' the visual hallucinations to Miss Morris. {147} Mr. Podmore certainly cannot be accused of ordinary superstition. There is a house, and there is a tenant. She hears footsteps pounding up- and down-stairs, and all through her room, she says nothing and gets used to it. Let it be granted that these noises are caused by rats. After conquering her dislike to the sounds, three weeks after her entry to the house, Miss Morris meets a total stranger, deadly pale, in deep black, who vanishes. This phantasm has gathered round the nucleus which the rats provided by stamping up- and down-stairs, and through Miss Morris's room. It is natural that a person who hears rats, or wind, or waterpipes, and makes up her mind not to mind it, should then see a phantasm of a pale woman in black; also should hear loud knocks at the door of her chamber. Miss Morris goes away, a year later comes Mrs. G., and Mrs. G., her children, her servants, a barrister and an exorcist, are all disturbed by

Noises.

Knocks.

Sobs.

Moans.

Thumps.

Dragging of heavy weights.

One dreadful white face.

One little woman.

Lights.

One white skirt hanging from the ceiling.

One footfall which played two notes on the piano (!).

One figure in brown.

One man with freckles.

Two human faces.

One shadow.

One 'part of the dress of a super-material being' (Barrister).

One form (Exorcist).

One small column of misty vapour.

Now all this catalogue of prodigies which drove Mrs. G. into the cold, bleak world, was caused, 'by thought transference from Miss Morris,' who had been absent for a year, and whose own hallucinations were caused by noises which may have been produced by rats, or what not.

This ingenious theory is too much for Mr. Myers's powers of belief: 'The very first effect of Miss Morris's ponderings was a heavy thump, followed by a deep sob and moan, and a cry of, "Oh, do forgive me," all disturbing poor Mrs. G. who had the ill luck to find herself in a bedroom about which Miss Morris was possibly thinking. . . . Surely the peace of us all rests on a very uncertain tenure.' Meanwhile Mr. Myers prefers to regard the whole trouble as more probably caused by the 'dreams of the dead' woman who hanged herself with a skipping rope, than by the reflections of Miss Morris. In any case the society seem to have occupied the house, and, with their usual bad luck, were influenced neither by the ponderings of Miss Morris, nor by the fredaines of the lady of the skipping rope. {149} It may be worth noticing that the raps, knocks, lights, and so forth of haunted houses, the 'spontaneous' disturbances, have been punctually produced at savage, classical, and modern seances. If these, from the days of the witch of Endor to our own, and from the polar regions to Australia, have all been impostures, at least they all imitate the 'spontaneous' phenomena reported to occur in haunted houses. The lights are essential in the seances described by Porphyry, Eusebius, Iamblichus: they were also familiar to the covenanting saints. The raps are known to Australian black fellows. The phantasms of animals, as at the Wesleys' house, may be beasts who play a part in the dead man's dream, or they may be incidental hallucinations, begotten of rats, and handed on by Miss Morris or any one else.

There remains a ghost who illustrates the story, spread all over Europe, of the farmer who was driven from his house by a bogle. As his carts went along the road, the bogle was heard exclaiming, 'We're flitting today,' and it faithfully stayed with the family. This tale, current in Italy as well as in Northern England, might be regarded as a mere piece of folklore, if the incident had not reproduced itself in West Brompton. In 1870 the T.'s took a house here: now mark the artfulness of the ghost, it did nothing for eighteen months. In autumn, 1871, Miss T. saw a figure come out of the dining-room, and the figure was often seen, later, by five independent witnesses. It was tall, dressed in grey, and was chiefly fond of haunting Miss T.'s own room. It did not walk, it glided, making no noise. Mr. T. met it in the hall, once, when he came in at night, and from the street he saw it standing in the drawing-room window. It used to sigh and make a noise as of steps, when it was not visible, it knocked and moved furniture about, and dropped weights, but these sounds were sometimes audible only to one, or a few of the observers. In 1877 the T.'s left for another house, to which Miss T. did not repair till 1879. Then the noises came back as badly as ever,--the bogle had flitted,--and, on Christmas Day, 1879, Miss T. saw her old friend the figure. Several members of the family never saw it at all. One lady, in another case, Miss Nettie Vatas-Simpson, tried to flap a ghost away with a towel, {150} but he was not thus to be exorcised. He presently went out through a locked door.

Such are the ordinary or typical phenomena of haunted houses. It is plainly of no use to take a haunted house for a month and then say it is not haunted because you see no ghosts. Even where they have been seen there are breaks of years without any 'manifestations'. Besides, the evidence shows that it is not every one who can see a ghost when he is there: Miss Morton's father could not see the lady in black, when she was visible to Miss Morton.

It is difficult to write with perfect seriousness about haunted houses. The writer will frankly confess that, when living in haunted houses (as he has done at various times when suffering from illness and overwork), he takes a very solemn view of the matter about bed-time. If 'expectant attention' on a mind strained by the schools, and a body enfeebled by bronchitis, could have made a man, who was the only occupant of the haunted wing of an old Scotch castle, see a ghost, the writer would have seen whatever there was to see. To be sure he could not rationally have regarded a spectre beheld in these conditions, as a well-authenticated ghost. {151} As far as his experience of first-hand tales is concerned, the persons known to him who say they have seen ghosts in haunted houses, were neither unhealthy, nor, except in one solitary case, imaginative, nor were they expecting a ghost. The apparition was 'a little pleasant surprise'. The usual seer is not an invalid, nor a literary person who can always be dismissed as 'imaginative,' though he is generally nothing of the kind. But it cannot be denied that ladies either see more ghosts than men or are less reluctant to impart information. The visionary lady who keeps up a regular telepathic correspondence with several friends is likely to see a ghost, and should certainly be entered at 'fixed local ghosts,' but there are slight objections to such evidence, as not free from suspicion of fancifulness.

Turning from the seers to the seen, it is difficult or impossible even to suggest an hypothesis which will seem to combine the facts. The most plausible fancy is that which likens the apparitions to figures in a feverish dream. Could we imagine a more or less bad man or woman dead, and fitfully living over again, 'in that sleep of death,' old events among old scenes, could we go further and believe that these dreams were capable of being made objective and visible to the living, then we might find a kind of theory of the process. But even if it were possible to demonstrate the existence of such a process, we are as far as ever from accounting for the force which causes noises, or hallucinations of noises, a force of considerable vigour, according to observers. Still less could we explain the rare cases in which a ghost produces a material effect on the inanimate or animate world, as by drawing curtains, or pulling people's hair and clothes,--all phenomena as well vouched for as the others. A picture projected by one mind on another, cannot conceivably produce these effects. They are such as ghosts have always produced, or been said to produce. Since the days of ancient Egypt, ghosts have learned, and have forgotten nothing. Unless we adopt the scientific and popular system of merely saying 'Fudge!' we find no end to the conundrums of the ghostly world. Ghosts seem to know as little about themselves as we do, so that, if we are to discover anything, we must make haste, before we become ghosts ourselves.

Writers on Psychology sometimes make a push at a theory of haunted houses. Mr. James Sully, for example, has done so in his book styled Illusions. {153} Mr. Sully appears well pleased with his hypothesis, and this, granting the accuracy of a tale for which he is indebted to a gentleman who need not be cited here, argues an easily contented disposition. Here is the statement:--

'A lady was staying at a country house. During the night and immediately on waking up she had (sic) an apparition of a strange- looking man in mediaeval costume, a figure by no means agreeable, and which seemed altogether unfamiliar to her. The next morning, on rising, she recognised the original of her hallucinatory image in a portrait hanging on the wall of her bedroom, which must have impressed itself on her brain before the occurrence of the apparition, though she had not attended to it. Oddly enough, she now learned for the first time that the house at which she was staying had the reputation of being haunted, and by the very same somewhat repulsive-looking mediaeval personage that had troubled her inter-somnolent moments. The case seems to me to be typical with respect to the genesis of ghosts, and of the reputation of haunted houses.'

This anecdote affords much joy to the superstitious souls who deal in Psychical Research, or Ghost Hunting. Mr. Sully's manner of narrating it clearly proves the difference between Science and Superstition. For a Ghost Hunter or Psychical Researcher would not venture to publish a modern ghost story (except for mere amusement), if he had it not at first hand, or at second hand with corroboration at first hand. Science, however, can adduce a case without indicating the evidence on which it rests, as whether Mr. Sully's informant had the tale from the lady, or at third, fourth, fifth, or a hundredth hand. So much for the matter of evidence. Next, Mr. Sully does not tell us whether the lady 'had an apparition,' when she supposed herself to be awake, or asleep, or 'betwixt and between'. From the phrase 'inter-somnolent,' he appears to prefer the intermediate condition. But he does not pretend to have interrogated the lady, the 'percipient'. Again, the figure wore a 'mediaeval costume,' the portrait represented a 'mediaeval personage'. Does Mr. Sully believe that the portrait was an original portrait of a real person? and how many portraits of mediaeval people does he suppose to exist in English country houses? Taking the Middle Ages as lasting till the beginning of the reign of Henry VIII., say till Holbein, we can assure Mr. Sully that they have left us very few portraits indeed. But perhaps it was a modern picture, a fanciful study of a man in mediaeval costume. In that event, Mr. Sully's case is greatly strengthened, but he does not tell us whether the work of art was, or was not, contemporary with the Middle Ages. Neither does he tell us whether the lady was in the habit of seeing hallucinations.

The weakest point in the whole anecdote and theory is in the statement, 'oddly enough, she now learned for the first time that the house at which she was staying had the reputation of being haunted' by the mediaeval personage. It certainly would be very odd if one picture in a house troubled 'the inter-somnolent moments' of a succession of people, who, perhaps, had never seen, or, like the lady, never attended to it. Such 'troubles' are very rare: very few persons have seen a dream which, in Mr. Sully's words, 'left behind, for an appreciable interval after waking, a vivid after- impression, and in some cases, even the semblance of a sense perception'. Mathematicians may calculate the chances against a single unnoticed portrait producing this very rare effect, in a series of cases, so as to give rise to a belief in haunting, by mere casual coincidence. In the records of the Psychical Society, one observer speaks of seeing a face and figure at night, which he recognises next morning in a miniature on his chimney-piece. But, in this case, there was no story of haunting, there had been no series of similar impressions on successive occupants of the room, that is the circumstance which Mr. Sully finds 'odd enough,' a sentiment in which we may all agree with him. This is exactly the oddity which his explanation does not explain.

While psychological science, in this example, seems to treat matters of evidence rather laxly, psychical conjecture, on the other hand, leaves much unexplained. Thus Mr. Myers puts forward a theory which is, in origin, due to St. Augustine. The saint had observed that any one of us may be seen in a dream by another person, while our intelligence is absolutely unconscious of any communication. Apply this to ghosts in haunted houses. We may be affected by a hallucination of the presence of a dead man or woman, but he, or she (granting their continued existence after death), may know nothing of the matter. In the same way, there are stories of people who have consciously tried to make others, at a distance, think of them. The subjects of these experiments have, it is said, had a hallucination of the presence of the experimenter. But he is unaware of his success, and has no control over the actions of what old writers, and some new theosophists, call his 'astral body'. Suppose, then, that something conscious endures after death. Suppose that some one thinks he sees the dead. It does not follow that the surviving consciousness (ex hypothesi) of the dead person who seems to be seen, is aware that he is 'manifesting' himself. As Mr. Myers puts it, 'ghosts must therefore, as a rule, represent--not conscious or central currents of intelligence--but mere automatic projections from consciousnesses which have their centres elsewhere,' [Greek]: as Homer makes Achilles say, 'there is no heart in them.' {156} All this is not inconceivable. But all this does not explain the facts, namely, the noises, often very loud, and the movements of objects, and the lights which are the common or infrequent accompaniments of apparitions in haunted houses. Now we have (always on much the same level of evidence) accounts of similar noises, and movements of untouched objects, occurring where living persons of peculiar constitution are present, or in haunted houses. These things we discuss in an essay on 'The Logic of Table-turning'. By parity of reasoning, or at least by an obvious analogy, we are led to infer that more than 'an automatic projection from the consciousness' of a dead man is present where he is not only seen, but heard, making noises, and perhaps moving objects. If this be admitted then psychical conjecture is pushed back on something very like the old theory of haunted houses, namely, that a ghost, or spiritual entity, is present and active there.

Long ago, in a little tale called 'Castle Perilous' (published in a volume named The Wrong Paradise), the author made an affable sprite explain all these phenomena. 'We suffer, we ghosts,' he said in effect, 'from a malady akin to aphasia in the living. We know what we want to say, and how we wish to appear, but, just as a patient in aphasia uses the wrong word, we use the wrong manifestation.' This he illustrated by a series of apparitions on his own part, which, he declared, were involuntary and unconscious: when they were described to him by the percipient, he admitted that they were vulgar and distressing, though, as far as he was concerned, merely automatic.

These remarks of the ghost, were, at least, explicit and intelligible. The theory which he stated with an honourable candour, and in language perfectly lucid, appears to have been adopted by Mr. Frederick Myers, but he puts it in a different style. 'I argue that the phantasmogenetic agency at work--whatever that may be--may be able to produce effects of light more easily than definite figures. . . . A similar argument will hold good in the case of the vague hallucinatory noises which frequently accompany definite veridical phantasms, and frequently also occur apart from any definite phantasm in houses reputed haunted.' {158a} Now where Mr. Myers says 'phantasmogenetic agency,' we say 'ghost'. J'appelle un chat, un chat, et Rollet un fripon. We urge that the ghost cannot, as it were, express himself as plainly as he would like to do, that he suffers from aphasia. Now he shows as a black dog, now as a green lady, now as an old man, and often he can only rap and knock, or display a light, or tug the bed-clothes. Thus the Rev. F. G. Lee tells us that a ghost first sat on his breast invisibly, then glided about his room like a man in grey, and, finally, took to thumping on the walls, the bed and in the chimney. Dr. Lee kindly recited certain psalms, and was greeted with applause, 'a very tornado of knocks . . . was the distinct and intelligible response'. {158b} Now, on our theory, the ghost, if he could, would have said, 'Thank you very much,' or the like, but he could not, so his sentiments translated themselves into thumps. On another occasion, he might have merely shown a light, or he might have sat on Dr. Lee's chest, 'pressed unduly on my chest,' says the learned divine,-- or pulled his blankets off, as is not unusual. Such are the peculiarities of spectral aphasia, or rather asemia. The ghost can make signs, but not the right signs.

Very fortunately for science, we have similar examples of imperfect expression in the living. Thus Dr. Gibotteau, formerly interne at a hospital in Paris, published, in Annales des Sciences, Psychiques (Oct. and Dec, 1892), his experiments on a hospital nurse, and her experiments on him. She used to try to send him hallucinations. Once at 8 p.m. in summer as he stood on a balcony, he saw a curious reflet blanc, 'a shining shadow' like that in The Strange Story. It resembled the reflection of the sun from a window, 'but there was neither sun, nor moon, nor lighted lamps'. This white shadow was the partial failure of Berthe, the nurse, 'to show herself to me on the balcony'. In precisely the same way, lights in haunted houses are partial failures of ghosts to appear in form As for the knocks, Dr. Binns, in his Anatomy of Sleep, mentions a gentleman who could push a door at a distance,--if he could push, he could knock. Perhaps a rather larger collection of such instances is desirable, still, these cases illustrate our theory. That theory certainly does drive the cold calm psychical researcher back upon the primitive explanation: 'A ghaist's a ghaist for a' that!' We must come to this, we must relapse into savage and superstitious psychology, if once we admit a 'phantasmogenetic agency.' But science is in quest of Truth, regardless of consequences.


Andrew Lang