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The Book of Dreams and Ghosts by Andrew Lang online

The Book of Dreams and Ghosts by Andrew Lang


This view of the case (that a "ghost" may be a reflection of a dead man's dream) will become less difficult to understand if we ask ourselves what natural thing most resembles the common idea of a ghost. You are reading alone at night, let us say, the door opens and a human figure glides into the room. To you it pays no manner of attention; it does not answer if you speak; it may trifle with some object in the chamber and then steal quietly out again.

_It is the House-maid walking in her Sleep_.

This perfectly accountable appearance, in its aimlessness, its unconsciousness, its irresponsiveness, is undeniably just like the common notion of a ghost. Now, if ordinary ghosts are not of flesh and blood, like the sleep-walking house-maid, yet are as irresponsive, as unconscious, and as vaguely wandering as she, then (if the dead are somewhat) a ghost _may_ be a hallucination produced in the living by the _unconscious_ action of the mind of the dreaming dead. The conception is at least conceivable. If adopted, merely for argument's sake, it would first explain the purposeless behaviour of ghosts, and secondly, relieve people who see ghosts of the impression that they see "spirits". In the Scotch phrase the ghost obviously "is not all there," any more than the sleep walker is intellectually "all there". This incomplete, incoherent presence is just what might be expected if a dreaming disembodied mind could affect an embodied mind with a hallucination.

But the good old-fashioned ghost stories are usually of another type. The robust and earnest ghosts of our ancestors "had their own purpose sun-clear before them," as Mr. Carlyle would have said. They knew what they wanted, asked for it, and saw that they got it.

As a rule their bodies were unburied, and so they demanded sepulture; or they had committed a wrong, and wished to make restitution; or they had left debts which they were anxious to pay; or they had advice, or warnings, or threats to communicate; or they had been murdered, and were determined to bring their assassins to the gibbet.

Why, we may ask, were the old ghost stories so different from the new? Well, first they were not all different. Again, probably only the more dramatic tales were as a rule recorded. Thirdly, many of the stories may have been either embellished--a fancied purpose being attributed to a purposeless ghost--or they may even have been invented to protect witnesses who gave information against murderers. Who could disobey a ghost?

In any case the old ghost stories are much more dramatic than the new. To them we turn, beginning with the appearances of Mr. and Mrs. Furze at Spraiton, in Devonshire, in 1682. Our author is Mr. Richard Bovet, in his Pandaemonium, or the Devil's Cloister opened (1683). The motive of the late Mr. Furze was to have some small debts paid; his wife's spectre was influenced by a jealousy of Mr. Furze's spectre's relations with another lady.


"About the month of November in the year 1682, in the parish of Spraiton, in the county of Devon, one Francis Fey (servant to Mr. Philip Furze) being in a field near the dwelling-house of his said master, there appeared unto him the _resemblance_ of an _aged gentleman_ like his master's father, with a pole or staff in his hand, resembling that he was wont to carry when living to kill the moles withal. The _spectrum_ approached near the young man, whom you may imagin not a little surprized at the _appearance_ of one that he knew to be dead, but the _spectrum bid him not be afraid of him, but tell his master_ (who was his son) that several _legacies which by his testament he had bequeathed were unpaid, naming ten shillings to one and ten shillings to another, both which persons he named_ to the young man, who replyed that the party he last named was dead, and so it could not be paid to him. The ghost answered _he knew that, but it must be paid to the next relation_, whom he also named. The spectrum likewise ordered him to carry twenty shillings to a gentlewoman, sister to the deceased, living near Totness in the said county, and promised, if these things were performed, to trouble him no further; but at the same time the _spectrum_, speaking of his _second wife_ (who was also dead) _called her wicked woman_, though the gentleman who writ the letter knew her and esteemed her a very good woman. And (having thus related him his mind) the spectrum left the young man, who according to the _direction_ of the _spirit_ took care to see the small legacies satisfied, and carried the twenty shillings that was appointed to be paid the gentlewoman near Totness, but she utterly refused to receive it, being sent her (as she said) from the devil. The same night the young man lodging at her house, the aforesaid spectrum appeared to him again; whereupon the young man challenged his _promise not to trouble him any more_, saying he had performed all according to his appointment, but that the gentlewoman, his sister, would not receive the money.