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The Book of Dreams and Ghosts by Andrew Lang online

The Book of Dreams and Ghosts by Andrew Lang


Curiously enough, this creation of phantasms by expectant attention seems to be rare where "ghosts" are expected. The author has slept in several haunted houses, but has never seen what he was led to expect. In many instances, as in "The Lady in Black" (infra), a ghost who is a frequent visitor is never seen when people watch for her. Among the many persons who have had delusions as to the presence of the dead, very few have been hoping, praying for and expecting them.

"I look for ghosts, but none will force Their way to me: 'Tis falsely said That there was ever intercourse Between the living and the dead, For surely then I should have sight Of him I wait for day and night With love and longings infinite."

The Affliction of Margaret has been the affliction of most of us. There are curious historical examples of these appearances of the living. Goethe declares that he once met himself at a certain place in a certain dress, and several years later found himself there in that costume. Shelley was seen by his friends at Lerici to pass along a balcony whence there was no exit. However, he could not be found there. The story of the wraith of Catherine the Great is variously narrated. We give it as told by an eye-witness, the Comte de Ribaupierre, about 1862 to Lady Napier and Ettrick. The Count, in 1862, was a very old man, and more than thirty years have passed since he gave the tale to Lady Napier, whose memory retains it in the following form:--


"In the exercise of his duties as one of the pages-in-waiting, Ribaupierre followed one day his august mistress into the throne-room of the palace. When the Empress, accompanied by the high officers of her court and the ladies of her household, came in sight of the chair of state which she was about to occupy, she suddenly stopped, and to the horror and astonished awe of her courtiers, she pointed to a visionary being seated on the imperial throne. The occupant of the chair was an exact counterpart of herself. All saw it and trembled, but none dared to move towards the mysterious presentment of their sovereign.

"After a moment of dead silence the great Catherine raised her voice and ordered her guard to advance and fire on the apparition. The order was obeyed, a mirror beside the throne was shattered, the vision had disappeared, and the Empress, with no sign of emotion, took the chair from which her semblance had passed away." It is a striking barbaric scene!

"Spirits of the living" of this kind are common enough. In the Highlands "second sight" generally means a view of an event or accident some time before its occurrence. Thus an old man was sitting with a little boy on a felled tree beside a steep track in a quarry at Ballachulish. Suddenly he jerked the boy to one side, and threw himself down on the further side of the tree. While the boy stared, the old man slowly rose, saying, "The spirits of the living are strong to-day!" He had seen a mass of rock dashing along, killing some quarrymen and tearing down the path. The accident occurred next day. It is needless to dwell on second sight, which is not peculiar to Celts, though the Highlanders talk more about it than other people.

These appearances of the living but absent, whether caused by some mental action of the person who appears or not, are, at least, _unconscious_ on his part. {88} But a few cases occur in which a living person is said, by a voluntary exertion of mind, to have made himself visible to a friend at a distance. One case is vouched for by Baron von Schrenck-Notzig, a German psychologist, who himself made the experiment with success. Others are narrated by Dr. Gibotteau. A curious tale is told by several persons as follows:--