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The Book of Dreams and Ghosts by Andrew Lang online

The Book of Dreams and Ghosts by Andrew Lang


The disturbances by no means ended in the beginning of January, nor at other dates when a brief cessation made the Wesleys hope that Jeffrey had returned to his own place. Thus on 27th March, Sukey writes to Sam, remarking that as Hetty and Emily are also writing "so particularly," she need not say much. "One thing I believe you do not know, that is, last Sunday, to my father's no small amazement, his trencher danced upon the table a pretty while, without anybody's stirring the table. . . . Send me some news for we are excluded from the sight or hearing of any versal thing, except Jeffery."

The last mention of the affair, at this time, is in a letter from Emily, of 1st April, to a Mr. Berry.

"Tell my brother the sprite was with us last night, and heard by many of our family." There are no other contemporary letters preserved, but we may note Mrs. Wesley's opinion (25th January) that it was "beyond the power of any human being to make such strange and various noises".

The next evidence is ten years after date, the statements taken down by Jack Wesley in 1726 (1720?). Mrs. Wesley adds to her former account that she "earnestly desired it might not disturb her" (at her devotions) "between five and six in the evening," and it did not rout in her room at that time. Emily added that a screen was knocked at on each side as she went round to the other. Sukey mentioned the noise as, on one occasion, coming gradually from the garret stairs, outside the nursery door, up to Hetty's bed, "who trembled strongly in her sleep. It then removed to the room overhead, where it knocked my father's knock on the ground, as if it would beat the house down." Nancy said that the noise used to follow her, or precede her, and once a bed, on which she sat playing cards, was lifted up under her several times to a considerable height. Robin, the servant, gave evidence that he was greatly plagued with all manner of noises and movements of objects.

John Wesley, in his account published many years after date in his Arminian Magazine, attributed the affair of 1716 to his father's broken vow of deserting his mother till she recognised the Prince of Orange as king! He adds that the mastiff "used to tremble and creep away before the noise began".

Some other peculiarities may be noted. All persons did not always hear the noises. It was three weeks before Mr. Wesley heard anything. "John and Kitty Maw, who lived over against us, listened several nights in the time of the disturbance, but could never hear anything." Again, "The first time my mother ever heard any unusual noise at Epworth was long before the disturbance of old Jeffrey . . . the door and windows jarred very loud, and presently several distinct strokes, three by three, were struck. From that night it never failed to give notice in much the same manner, against any signal misfortune or illness of any belonging to the family," writes Jack.

Once more, on 10th February, 1750, Emily (now Mrs. Harper) wrote to her brother John, "that wonderful thing called by us Jeffery, how certainly it calls on me against any extraordinary new affliction".

This is practically all the story of Old Jeffrey. The explanations have been, trickery by servants (Priestley), contagious hallucinations (Coleridge), devilry (Southey), and trickery by Hetty Wesley (Dr. Salmon, of Trinity College, Dublin). Dr. Salmon points out that there is no evidence from Hetty; that she was a lively, humorous girl, and he conceives that she began to frighten the maids, and only reluctantly exhibited before her father against whom, however, Jeffrey developed "a particular spite". He adds that certain circumstances were peculiar to Hetty, which, in fact, is not the case. The present editor has examined Dr. Salmon's arguments in The Contemporary Review, and shown reason, in the evidence, for acquitting Hetty Wesley, who was never suspected by her family.