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The Book of Dreams and Ghosts by Andrew Lang online

The Book of Dreams and Ghosts by Andrew Lang


Transition to Appearances of the Dead. Obvious Scientific Difficulties. Purposeless Character of Modern Ghosts. Theory of Dead Men's Dreams. Illustrated by Sleep-walking House-maid. Purposeful Character of the Old Ghost Stories. Probable Causes of the Difference between Old and New Ghost Stories. Only the most Dramatic were recorded. Or the Tales were embellished or invented. Practical Reasons for inventing them. The Daemon of Spraiton. Sources of Story of Sir George Villier's Ghost. Clarendon. Lilly, Douch. Wyndham. Wyndham's Letter. Sir Henry Wotton. Izaak Walton. Anthony Wood. A Wotton Dream proved Legendary. The Ghost that appeared to Lord Lyttleton. His Lordship's Own Ghost.


We now pass beyond the utmost limits to which a "scientific" theory of things ghostly can be pushed. Science admits, if asked, that it does not know everything. It is not _inconceivable_ that living minds may communicate by some other channel than that of the recognised senses. Science now admits the fact of hypnotic influence, though, sixty years ago, Braid was not allowed to read a paper on it before the British Association. Even now the topic is not welcome. But perhaps only one eminent man of science declares that hypnotism is _all_ imposture and malobservation. Thus it is not wholly beyond the scope of fancy to imagine that some day official science may glance at the evidence for "telepathy".

But the stories we have been telling deal with living men supposed to be influencing living men. When the dead are alleged to exercise a similar power, we have to suppose that some consciousness survives the grave, and manifests itself by causing hallucinations among the living. Instances of this have already been given in "The Ghost and the Portrait," "The Bright Scar" and "Riding Home after Mess". These were adduced as examples of _veracity_ in hallucinations. Each appearance gave information to the seer which he did not previously possess. In the first case, the lady who saw the soldier and the suppliant did not know of their previous existence and melancholy adventure. In the second, the brother did not know that his dead sister's face had been scratched. In the third, the observer did not know that Lieutenant B. had grown a beard and acquired a bay pony with black mane and tail. But though the appearances were _veracious_, they were _purposeless_, and again, as in each case the information existed in living minds, it _may_ have been wired on from them.

Thus the doctrine of telepathy puts a ghost of the dead in a great quandary. If he communicates no verifiable information, he may be explained as a mere empty illusion. If he does yield fresh information, and if that is known to any living mind, he and his intelligence may have been wired on from that mind. His only chance is to communicate facts which are proved to be true, facts which nobody living knew before. Now it is next to impossible to demonstrate that the facts communicated were absolutely unknown to everybody.

Far, however, from conveying unknown intelligence, most ghosts convey none at all, and appear to have no purpose whatever.

It will be observed that there was no traceable reason why the girl with a scar should appear to Mr. G., or the soldier and suppliant to Mrs. M., or Lieutenant B. to General Barker. The appearances came in a vague, casual, aimless way, just as the living and healthy clergyman appeared to the diplomatist. On St. Augustine's theory the dead persons who appeared may have known no more about the matter than did the living clergyman. It is not even necessary to suppose that the dead man was dreaming about the living person to whom, or about the place in which, he appeared. But on the analogy of the tales in which a dream or thought of the living seems to produce a hallucination of their presence in the minds of other and distant living people, so a dream of the dead may (it is urged) have a similar effect if "in that sleep of death such dreams may come". The idea occurred to Shakespeare! In any case the ghosts of our stories hitherto have been so aimless and purposeless as to resemble what we might imagine a dead man's dream to be.