Haunted Houses….

Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette, Saturday 28th July 1883

Haunted Houses

“All houses wherein men have lived and died are haunted houses,” says Longfellow. The poet was referring to cling’mg memories, to sweet and to sad associations; and not by any means to those somewhat vulgar ghosts who start unexpectedly out of dark corners and employ their immortality in embittering the lives of those who are still mortal. Nowadays the common work-a-day ghost is rather a discredited character. It has been rejected as object of faith even by the majority of servant maids. It is haled and abhorred by the owners of house property, who only regard it as a certain diminisher of rent. Even its most flourishing days, when it had to be laid by means of salt and the parish clergyman, it was nothing else but a nuisance. It had a sort of reputation for pointing out buried treasure, but though there are numberless traditions as to its thorough performance of its duty this respect, there is not on record the name of anyone who was actually inducted into a fortune by a ghost. Whenever it has interfered mundane affairs, the old-fashioned ghost has only interfered disastrously. It has frightened children and old maids; it has led to much expenditure of money in night lights; it has “murdered sleep,” as Macbeth did; and it has added terrors to that solitude which was necessary to the happiness of the solemn-minded Herr Zimmermann.

This being so, it is rather unreasonable that any society of educated men should expect gratitude for a serious attempt to revive the belief in ghosts. Yet it is exactly gratitude that the Society for Psychical Research seems to demand. It comes to us, as it represents, with truth its hands, and complains that, the figurative sense, we stone the prophets. This is unreasonable. If the Society for Psychical Research were merely introducing us to the ghost the spirit circle, its affectedly solemn scientific investigation might be tolerable. The Spiritualistic ghost is not at all a bad sort of being. It provided Mrs Guppy’s friends with pleasant luncheon; ” floats, like Loretto’s chapel, through the air,” and brings nice little presents along with it; talks affably, and sings indifferently, and plays on the tambourine. There is no particular reason for objecting to a ghost of this sort; but then it is ghost of the agonising old school tbat the Society for Psychical Research wishes to popularise—the ghost that has committed suicide or murder, and haunts the dreadful spot, that is seated one’s arm-chair after the day’s work is done, that drags chains about the staircase, and that sharpens a razor on tbe bead of one’s cabinet bedstead.

Nobody wants ghosts of this sort, or to believe them; yet the Society for Psychical Research complains of the incredulity of its critics, and has published a second edition of its proceedings order to add to the evidences on the existence of ghosts. The Society for Psychical Research has gone to work with a calm scientific air. Its purpose is investigation. It avows its intention of being guided only by the strongest and most conclusive evidence. All the same, it is clearly prepared, supposing that it thinks the evidence strong enough, to conclude that the moon is made of green cheese. For example, one might possibly be led to believe in ghosts without finding reason to believe the ghost of a brick wall. Now, the Society for Psychical Research is prepared to believe that brick walls have ghosts on exactly the same evidence would convince it that it was a real ghost which appeared to Brutus on the eve of the battle of Pharsali, is most evident from the proceedings of the society.

Let us turn to the portion which deals with haunted houses. Here is a ghost story that might be told round a Christmas fire. Two gentlemen driving a trap took the wrong turn some cross roads. They arrived at house brilliantly lighted. One of them descended, walked to the door, was courteously received and invited to enter and sup. As time was valuable the invitation was declined, and a servant was sent with the travellers to point out the way. When the servant was offered a five-shilling piece, the coin was seen to drop through the palm of his hand. The servant himself vanished. That was mysterious, but here comes greater wonder still. On arriving at their destination the travellers learned that no house stood in the locality where they had been so courteously received, and on going back the next day they found this to be the fact. A house had stood there, however, but a great crime had been committed on a certain Christmas Eve, and had been pulled down for many years. This delightful romance, Committee Harmed blouses” observes quite gravely :—”The evidence falls short of our requirements,” the inference being the evidence bad been stronger; the committee would have believed not only the ghost of the courteous landlord, but in the ghost of the house which he had lived and which he had the power of re-erecting at will. Ordinary credulity will stop the brick wall. accepts the ghost will some difficulty about the environment. It is a great comfort to believe that persons like the members of the Society for Psychical Research ask us to believe too much. They might in time procure evidence that seemed enough to warrant some uncertainty as to a ghost pure and simple, but the ghost of a country mansion can be only mirage or hallucination produced, a too liberal indulgence in those Leverages which, it is believed, make ghost stories both enjoyable and credible.

The Society for Psychical Research tends to be a scientific body. If spared, on even the very strongest evidence to believe in the ghosts of brick walls we deny its pretensions. For the rest, we hold with Lord Lytton—” The world ot the dear is wide. Why should the ghosts jostle us ?”