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The Book of Dreams and Ghosts by Andrew Lang online

The Book of Dreams and Ghosts by Andrew Lang


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Of this story the only conceivable natural explanation is that Mrs. Claughton, to serve her private ends, paid secret preliminary visits to Meresby, "got up" there a number of minute facts, chose a haunted house at the other end of England as a first scene in her little drama, and made the rest of the troublesome journeys, not to mention the uncomfortable visit to a dark church at midnight, and did all this from a hysterical love of notoriety. This desirable boon she would probably never have obtained, even as far as it is consistent with a pseudonym, if I had not chanced to dine with Dr. Ferrier while the adventure was only beginning. As there seemed to be a chance of taking a ghost "on the half volley," I at once communicated the first part of the tale to the Psychical Society (using pseudonyms, as here, throughout), and two years later Mrs. Claughton consented to tell the Society as much as she thinks it fair to reveal.

This, it will be confessed, is a round-about way of obtaining fame, and an ordinary person in Mrs. Claughton's position would have gone to the Psychical Society at once, as Mark Twain meant to do when he saw the ghost which turned out to be a very ordinary person.

There I leave these ghosts, my mind being in a just balance of agnosticism. If ghosts at all, they were ghosts with a purpose. The species is now very rare.

The purpose of the ghost in the following instance was trivial, but was successfully accomplished. In place of asking people to do what it wanted, the ghost did the thing itself. Now the modern theory of ghosts, namely, that they are delusions of the senses of the seers, caused somehow by the mental action of dead or distant people, does not seem to apply in this case. The ghost produced an effect on a material object.


The Rev. D. W. G. Gwynne, M.D., was a physician in holy orders. In 1853 he lived at P--- House, near Taunton, where both he and his wife "were made uncomfortable by auditory experiences to which they could find no clue," or, in common English, they heard mysterious noises. "During the night," writes Dr. Gwynne, "I became aware of a draped figure passing across the foot of the bed towards the fireplace. I had the impression that the arm was raised, pointing with the hand towards the mantel-piece on which a night-light was burning. Mrs. Gwynne at the same moment seized my arm, _and the light was extinguished_! Notwithstanding, I distinctly saw the figure returning towards the door, and being under the impression that one of the servants had found her way into our room, I leaped out of bed to intercept the intruder, but found and saw nothing. I rushed to the door and endeavoured to follow the supposed intruder, and it was not until I found the door locked, as usual, that I was painfully impressed. I need hardly say that Mrs. Gwynne was in a very nervous state. She asked me what I had seen, and I told her. She had seen the same figure," "but," writes Mrs. Gwynne, "I distinctly _saw the hand of the figure placed over the night-light, which was at once extinguished_". "Mrs. Gwynne also heard the rustle of the 'tall man- like figure's' garments. In addition to the night-light there was moonlight in the room."

"Other people had suffered many things in the same house, unknown to Dr. and Mrs. Gwynne, who gave up the place soon afterwards."

In plenty of stories we hear of ghosts who draw curtains or open doors, and these apparent material effects are usually called part of the seer's delusion. But the night-light certainly went out under the figure's hand, and was relit by Dr. Gwynne. Either the ghost was an actual entity, not a mere hallucination of two people, or the extinction of the light was a curious coincidence. {186}

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