« VorigeDoorgaan »
Again, it is curious how thoroughly the taken commonplace objects for either conventional idea of a ghost or goblin is “ spirit of health” or “ goblin damn'd.” associated with the thought of a shrouded During the last weeks of the long vaface. It may be that this is partly due to cation already mentioned I went alone to the circumstance that while the imagina- Blackpool in Lancashire. There I took tion may quite commonly present to us lodgings in a house facing the sea. My the idea of a vision in all points complete sitting-room was on the ground-floor. except in the face, it can be but rarely On a warm autumn night I was reading that real objects are mistaken for the act with the window open; but the blind was ual features of a deceased friend. Be down and was waving gently to and fro this as it may, the ghost has been pic- l in the wind. It happened that I was tured with concealed face from time im- reading a book on demonology; morememorial. So Flaxman draws the ghosts over, I had been startled earlier in the encountered by Ulysses in Hades, and evening by prolonged shrieks from an no really fearful ghost has shown his face upper room in the house, where my landsince the days when fear came upon lady's sister, who was very ill, had had an Eliphaz, the Temanite, “and trembling hysterical fit. I had just read to the end which made all his bones to shake ; when of a long and particularly horrible narraa spirit passed before his face and the tive when I was disturbed by the beating hair of his flesh stood up; and the spirit of the curtain — the wind having risen stood still, but he could not discern the somewhat — and I got up to close the form thereof."
window. As I turned round for the purIt is curious that children, when they pose the curtain rose gently and disclosed try to frighten each other by “ making a startling object. A fearful face was ghosts," cover their heads. There is there, black, long, and hideous, and suranother singular trick they have — they mounted by two monstrous horns. Its make horns to their heads with their fore-eyes, large and bright, gleamed horribly, fingers. Why should horns be regarded and a mouth garnished with immense as peculiarly horrible? The idea can teeth grinned at me. Then the curtain scarcely be referred to the times of our slowly descended. But I knew the horsavage ancestors, for the creatures they rible thing was there. I waited, by no had chiefly to fear were certainly not the means comfortably, while the curtain fluthorned animals. Yet the conventional tered about, showing parts of the black devil is horned, and, moreover, “ divideth monster. At last it rose again so as to the hoof," and is therefore a ruminating disclose the whole face. But the face animal.* Did our savage ancestors keep had lost its horror for me. For the horns their children in order by frightening were gone. Instead of the two nearly upthem with stories about their horned cat-right horns which before had shown black tle? It is certain at least that among the and frightful against the light background most portentous forms known to those of sea and sky, there were two sloped children must have been the oxen and ears as unmistakably asinine as I felt mygoats which formed a principal feature of self at the moment. When I went to the their surroundings.
window (which before I felt unable to It must be admitted that there is some-approach) I saw that several stray donthing particularly hideous in a long horned keys were wandering through the front face. I remember an instance where the gardens of the row of houses to which sudden appearance of such a face, or my lodgings belonged. It is possible what I took to be such, caused me a de- that the inquisitive gentleman who had gree of discomfort certainly not justified looked in at my window was attracted by by the occasion. Singularly enough, the the flapping curtain, which he may have event belongs to the period of my life to taken for something edible. “If so," I which I have already referred'; and I remarked to myself, “two of your kind may as well note that at no time either have been deceived to-night." before or since have I even for a moment. It would be easy to fill a page with the (and against the will of the mind), mis- details of the various ideas entertained
about ghosts, goblins, and demons. * The conventional dragon is a Pterodactylian reptile. Such ideas extend not only to the apRuskin will have it that Turner's picture of the Dragon guarding the Hesperidan apples was a mental evolution pearance of such beings, their apparel, of a saurian reptile; but Turner himself said he got the appurtenances, and so on, but to the idea of his dragon at a pantomime at Drury Lane. |
inoises which they make either of themUtrum koruri mavis accipe. It is a wide range from the green-sand to the greenroom.
Iselves or by means of various supernatural objects which they are supposed | ken for the strains of loud but distant to carry about with them. Thus,
It is, perhaps, not going too far to say The sheeted dead . that our modern spirits, who deal ia Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets noise-making as well as in furniture-tiltA little ere the mightiest Julius fell.
ing (of yet more marvellous feats we say
nothing), are not unacquainted with the And it is to be noted that as ghosts com- means by which the ear may be deceired monly show no face, so few have been as in the cases just considered. Some known to speak with full voice. . This sounds said to be heard during dark sémay be because the noises heard at the ances suggest the suspicion. hours when ghosts are seen are not such It will be seen that the opinion to which as can be by any possibility mistaken for I incline — as the best and perhaps only the human voice in its ordinary tones, natural interpretation of events supposed while, nevertheless, an excited imagina- to be supernatural - is that real sights tion can frame spoken words out of the and sounds are modified by the imaginastrange sounds which can be heard in al- tion, either excited or diseased, into most every house in the stillness of night. seemingly supernatural occurrences. It This also serves to account for the no-does not seem to me likely that in any tion that ghosts can clank chains, or make large proportion of recorded (and presumother dismal noises. Sounds heard at ably veracious) ghost-stories, there has night are highly deceptive; a small noise been an actual phantom of the brain. close by is taken for a loud noise at a dis- Such phantoms are sometimes seen, no tance (not necessarily a very great dis- doubt, and unreal voices are sometimes tance), and a noise made by objects of heard ; but the condition of the brain one kind will be mistaken for noises made which leads to such effects must be reby objects of a different kind altogether. garded as altogether exceptional. CerA friend of mine told me he had been tainly it is not common. On the contra. disturbed two nights running by a sound ry, the play of fancy by which images are as of an army tramping down a road which formed from objects in no way connected passed some 200 yards from his house : with the picture raised in the mind is a he found the third night (I had suggested common phenomenon. Although some an experimental test as to the place minds possess the faculty more fully than whence the sound came) that the noise others, few actually want it. I suppose was produced by a clock in the next there is not one person in a thousand house, the clock having been newly who cannot see “faces in the fire," for placed against the party wall. We all instance, though to some the pictures so know Carlyle's story of the ghostly voice produced are much more vivid than to heard each evening by a low-spirited man others. Dickens tell us that in travelling -a voice as if one, in like doleful dumps, through a cleared region in America at proclaiming, “once I was hap-hap-happy, night, the trees by the roadside seemed but now I am meeserable " - and how to assume the most startling resemblance the ghost resolved itself into a rusty to different objects — now an old man sitkitchen-jack. There is a case of a lady ting in a chair, now a funeral urn, and so who began to think herself the victim of on. Doubtless, not every traveller along some delusion, and perhaps threatened the road under the same circumstances by approaching illness, because each would have found so many fanciful treenight, about a quarter-of-an-hour after pictures formed for him, or perhaps any she had gone to bed, she heard a hideous formed so distinctly as did Dickens, with din in the neighbourhood of her house, his lively imagination and wealth of mindor else (she was uncertain which) in some images. Yet probably very few persons distant room. The noise was in reality travel along a tree-covered region in the the slightest possible creak (within a few deeper dusk of evening without fancying feet of her pillow, however), and produced that the trees shape themselves into by the door of a wardrobe which she strange forms of living or inanimate obclosed every night just before getting intojects. bed. The door, about a quarter-of-an- | But the important point to be noticed hour after being closed, recovered its po- is that when the mind is deeply occupied sition of rest, slightly beyond which it with particular thoughts, the imagination had been pushed in closing. In another is more likely to conjure up pictures concase the crawling of a snail across a win- nected with those thoughts, than such dow produced sounds which were mista-'random pictures as are formed when the
· mind is not so preoccupied. If we admit spectres were so great that it is no wonthis — and I conceive that there can be der that now and then the person should very little doubt on the point — we can have died at or near the moment, we dispose very readily of the argument from ought to expect a much larger proportion coincidence, advanced by those who be- of cases in which the spectre should lieve that the spirits of the dead some- come at the moment of the death of one times come visibly into the presence of or another of all the cluster who are closethe living. I present this argument as ly connected with the original of the urged in an analogous case (that of vis- spectre.” (This is not very distinct: any ions at the moment of death) by a late wrong spectre, with or without close coneminent mathematician, whose belief in nection with any particular moribund, the possibility at least of many things would seem to serve De Morgın's purwhich are commonly regarded as super- pose in this argument equally well. He stitions was so well known that no apol- seems to insist, however, on the fact ogy need here be made for touching on undoubtedly such – that if spectres were the subject. After speaking on the gen- commonly appearing, without reference eral subject of coincidences, De Morgan to the deaths of individuals, cases should thus, in language less simple than he happen pretty frequently where a spectre commonly employs, presents the argu- appears which is not that of a persoa then ment for spectral apparitions (at the mo- dying, but of some near relative. I feel ment of the death of the person so ap-by no means sure, however, that I have pearing): – “The great ghost-paradox rightly caught De Morgan's meaning.) and its theory of coincidence will rise to “ But this," he proceeds, "is, we know, the surface in the mind of everyone. But almost without example. It remains the use of the word coincidence is here at then, for all, who speculate at all, to look variance with its common meaning. upon the asserted phenomenon, think When A is constantly happening, and what they may of it, the thing which is to also B, the occurrence of A and B at the be explained, as a connection in time of the same moment is the mere coincidence death, and the simultaneous appearance which may be casualty.” (That is, this of the dead. Any person the least used is a coincidence of the common kind.) | to the theory of probabilities will see that “ But the case before us is that A is con- purely casual coincidence, the wrong stantly happening” (here by A, De Mor-spectre being comparatively so rare that gan means a death, as he explains further it may be said never to occur, is not withon, but the explanation should come in in the rational field of possibility.”. at this point) “ while B” (the spectral ap- I have quoted this argument because pearance of the person who dies), “when it applies equally well to the case of it does happen, almost always happens spectral appearances after death. The with A, and very rarely without it. That right spectre is always seen, so far as is is to say, such is the phenomenon assert-known, and it appears always on a suited; and all who rationally refer it to cas-lable occasion (at least, an occasion as ualty affirm that B is happening very often nearly suitable as the case permits). as well as A, but that it is not thought It must be admitted, however, that the worthy of being recorded except when A explanation does not cover the facts of is simultaneous." I must venture to ex- all ghost-stories. There are some narrapress my dissent from this statement : ittives which, if accepted in all their deseems to me incredible that any person tails, appear to admit of no explanation would, as De Morgan asserts, rationally other than that which refers the events affirm that spectral appearances are “ very described to supernatural causes. But often" seen.' “In talking of this sub- it must not be forgotten that these narject," he proceeds, “it is necessary to ratives have come in every instance from put out of the question all who play fast believers in ghosts and spirits; and withand loose with their secret convictions : out questioning the veracity of particular these had better give us a reason, when narrators, we may yet not unfairly point they feel internal pressure for explana- | out that it is not absolutely impossible tion, that there is no weathercock at that at some stage or other, either in the Kilve: this would do for all cases. But events related or in the handing down of persons of real inquiry will see that, first, the story, some degree of deception may experience does not bear out the asserted have come in. Tricks have been played frequency of the spectre, without the al- in these matters, beyond all possibility lesed coincidence of death ; and second- of question. Untruths have been told ly, that if the crowd of purely casual' also. The person who doubts a narrative of the marvellous is not bound to be found on the parchment, was also say where he suspects that some mistake given, and was followed by the signature has been made, some deception practised, - Baldazzarini. Father and son then set some statement made which is not strict- to work to search for this hidden scroll, ly veracious. He may not wish to say, or and after some two hours' close examinhe may even be very far from believing, ation found, in a narrow slit, a piece of that the narrator is a trifle foolish or not old parchment about eleven inches by quite honest. He may put faith in the three, containing, in very old writing, persons cited as authorities for the narra- nearly the same words which M. Bach tive ; and he may even carry his faith, as had written, and signed — Henry. This well in the sense as in the honesty of the parchment was taken to the Bibliothèque persons concerned, a step or two farther. Impériale, and submitted to experienced Yet he may still find room for doubt. antiquarians, and was pronounced to be Or again, he may have very little faith, / an undoubtedly genuine autograph of and very ample room for doubt, and yet Henry III. may have valid reasons for not wishing “This is the story," says Prof. Walto state as much. Persons who tell mar- lace, and proceeds to dwell on the care vellous stories ought not to press too with which Mr. Owen, who narrates it in earnestly for their auditor's opinion. It The Debatable Land between this World is neither fair nor wise.
and the Next), had examined all the deAs an instance of a story which has tails. “Not content with ascertaining been unwisely insisted upon by believers | these facts at first hand, and obtaining in the supernatural, I take the marvel- photographs of the spinet and parchlous narrative of M. Bach and the old ment ''(!) “ of both of which he gives spinet. As given in outline by Profes-good representations, M. Owen sets bimsor Wallace, it runs thus : -“ M. Leon self to hunt up historical confirmation of Bach purchased at an old curiosity shop the story, and after much research and in Paris a very ancient but beautiful many failures, he finds that Baltasarini spinet as a present to his father (a great was an Italian musician, who came to grandson of Bach, the great composer), a France in 1577, and was in great favour musical amateur. The next night the with Henry III. ; that the King was paselder Bach dreamt that he saw a hand- sionately attached to Marie de Cleves, some young man, dressed in old court who became wife of the Prince de Condé, costume, who told him that the spinet had and that several of the allusions to been given to him by his master King her in the verses corresponded to what Henry. He then said he would play on was known of her history. Other miit an air, with words composed by the nuter details were found to be historically King, in memory of a lady he had greatly accurate.” (In other words “the bricks loved; he did so, and M. Bach woke in are alive this day to testify it; therefore, tears, touched by the pathos of the song. deny it not.”) “Mr. Owen also carefully He went to sleep again, and on waking discusses the nature of the evidence, the in the morning was amazed to find on his character of the person concerned, and bed a sheet of paper, on which were writ- the possibility of deception. M. Bach is ten in very old characters, both words an old man of high character; and to and music of the song he had heard in suppose that he suddenly and without his dreams. It was said to be by Henry conceivable motives planned and carried III., and the date inscribed on the spinet out a most elaborate and complicated imwas a few years earlier. M. Bach, com- posture, is to suppose what is wholly inpletely puzzled, showed the music to his credible.” (That is, we must not suppose friends, and among them were some so because we cannot suppose so.) "Mr. spiritualists, from whom he heard, for Owen shows further that the circumstanthe first time, their interpretation of the ces are such that M. Bach could not have phenomena. Now comes the most won- been an impostor even had he been so inderful part of the history. M. Bach be- clined, and concludes by remarking, · I do came himself a writing medium ; and not think dispassionate readers will accept through his hand was written involunta- such violent improbabilities. But if not, rily a statement that inside the spinet, in what interesting suggestions touching a secret niche near the key-board was a spirit-intercourse and spirit-identity conparchment, nailed in the case, containing nect themselves with this simple narrative the lines written by King Henry when le of M. Bach's spinet !'" gave the instrument to his musician. The Here is a story which to most readers, four-line stanza, which it was said would | I venture to say, appears absurd on the
face of it, suggesting not “interesting," adduced, and fresh converts made, some but utterly ludicrous “ideas of spirit in- of whom are so unreasonable as to ask tercourse ; " yet we are to believe it, or for a new trial, on the ground that the else indicate exactly how our doubts are former verdict was contrary to the evidivided between Mr. Owen himself (who dence." may have been somewhat misled by his All this affords excellent reason why evidence), the Bachs, father and son, the the converts " should not be ridiculed spiritualist friends who instructed M. for their belief ; but something more to Bach how to become “a writing medium,” the purpose must be urged before “the and so on.
Iphilosophers" can be expected to devote Again, we are to believe all such very much of their time to the inquiry stories unless we are prepared with an suggested. It ought to be shown that explanation of every circumstance. It the well-being of the human race is to seems to me that it would be as reason- some important degree concerned in the able for a person who had witnessed some matter, whereas the trivial nature of all ingenious conjuring tricks to insist that ghostly conduct hitherto recorded is adthey should be regarded as supernatural, mitted even by “converts.” It ought to unless his hearers were prepared to ex- be observed that the principles of scienplain the exact way in which they had tific research can be applied to this inbeen managed. Indeed, the stress laid quiry; whereas before spirits were in by the superstitious on narratives such as vogue the contrary was absolutely the those related by Mr. Owen, is altogether case, while it is scarcely going too far to unwarrantable in the presence of all that say that even the behaviour of spirits is is known about the nature and the laws to be tested only by“ converts,” and in the of evidence. In works like Mr. Owen's dark. It ought, lastly, to be shown that the author is witness, judge, and advo- the “scores and even hundreds ” of wellcate (especially advocate) in one. Those attested facts, admittedly singular, and who do not agree with him have not only even, let us say, admittedly inexplicable, no power of cross-examining, but they are not more in number than the singular commonly have neither time nor inclina- and seemingly inexplicable facts likely to tion to obtain specific evidence on their occur (by mere casualty) among the milside of the question. It requires indeed lions of millions of events which are consome considerable degree of faith in the tinually occurring ; but this is very far supernatural to undertake the deliberate from having been as yet demonstrated ; examination of the evidence adduced for on the contrary, when we consider the ghost stories - by which I mean, not the scores and hundreds, and even thousands study of the story as related, but the act of facts which, though they have been exual questioning of the persons concerned, plained, yet seemed for awhile (and might as well as an examination of the scene have remained for ever) inexplicable, the and all the circumstances of the event. wonder rather is that not a few books Thus I cannot see any force in the fol- like Mr. Owen's, but whole libraries of lowing remarks by Professor Wallace:- books, have not been filled with the rec“How is such evidence as this,” he says; ords of even more singular and inexplispeaking of one of Owen's stories, “re- cable events. futed or explained away ? Scores, and even hundreds of equally attested facts are on record, but no attempt is made to explain them. They are simply ignored,
From The Academy. and in many cases admitted to be inex
THE PHYSICAL EFFECTS OF FOREST plicable. Yet this is not quite satisfac
UPON ATMOSPHERE AND SOIL.* tory, as any reader of Mr. Owen's book will be inclined to admit. Punch once
“The welfare and the progress of a made a Yankee debtor say —
country depend to a certain extent on
the amount of forest which it contains." This debt I have repudiated long ago;
Such a statement appears strange enough 'Tis therefore settled. Yet this Britisher to us here at home, but its truth has at Keeps for repayment worriting me still! last been recognized at the India Ofice,
by the foundation of a forest department, So our philosophers declare that they have long ago decided these ghost stories! Die physikalischen Einwirkungen des Waldes auf to be all delusions : therefore they need Luft und Boden, und seine klimatologische und hy.
gienische Bedeutung, begrindst durch die Bcobachtune
gon der Försti. Metcorologischen Stationen in Ba. ' worrited,' that fresh evidence should be yern. Dr. Ernst Ebermayer. Aschaffenburg: Krebs