THE MYSTERY OF
"This Collection of Stories is well chosen, and affords a fund of amusement that is cheap at the price of five shillings. By putting such a book as this into the hands of children, parents will more effectually guard their minds against weak credulity, than by grave philosophic admonition." Monthly Review, October 1814.
Printed by Macdonald and Son, Cloth Fair, Smithfield
OR, THE MYSTERY OF Ghosts, Hobgoblins, and Haunted Houses, DEVELOPED.
BEING A COLLECTION OF ENTERTAINING STORIES, FOUNDED ON FACT, And selected for the purpose of
ERADICATING THOSE FEARS, WHICH THE IGNORANT, THE WEAK, AND THE SUPERSTITIOUS, ARE BUT TOO APT TO ENCOURAGE, FOR WANT OF PROPERLY EXAMINING INTO THE CAUSES OF SUCH ABSURD IMPOSITIONS.
BY JOSEPH TAYLOR.
SECOND EDITION, ENLARGED.
London: PRINTED FOR LACKINGTON, ALLEN, AND CO. FINSBURY SQUARE.
The subsequent little Work owes its rise and progress to very trifling circumstances.
In the early part of my life, having read many books in favour of Ghosts and Spectral Appearances, the recollection remained so strong in my mind, that, for years after, the dread of phantoms bore irresistible sway. This dread continued till about my twenty-third year, when the following simple affair fully convinced me, how necessary it was thoroughly to investigate every thing that tended to supernatural agency, lest idle fear should gain a total ascendancy over my mind.
About this period, I had apartments in a large old-fashioned country mansion. From my bed-chamber was a secret door leading to a private staircase, which communicated with some of the lower rooms. This door was fastened both within and without; consequently all fear of intrusion from that quarter was entirely removed. However, at times, I could not help ruminating on the malpractices that might have been committed by evil-disposed persons, through this communication; and "busy meddling fancy" was fertile in conjuring up imaginary horrors. Every thing, however, was quiet, and agreeable to my wishes, for some months after my arrival. One moonlight night, in the month of June, I retired to my bed, full of thought, but slept soundly till about one o'clock; when I awoke, and discovered, by the help of the moon which shone full in my room, a tall figure in white, with arms extended, at the foot of my bed. Fear and astonishment overpowered me for a few seconds; I gazed on it with terror, and was afraid to move. At length I had courage to take a second peep at this disturber of my rest, and still continued much alarmed, and irresolute how to act. I hesitated whether to speak to the figure, or arouse the family. The first idea I considered as a dangerous act of heroism; the latter, as a risk of being laughed at, should the subject of my story not prove supernatural. Therefore, after taking a third view of the phantom, I mustered up all my resolution, jumped out of bed, and boldly went up to the figure, grasped it round and round, and found it incorporeal. I then looked at it again, and felt it again; when, reader, judge of my astonishment—this ghostly spectre proved to be nothing more than a large new flannel dressing-gown which had been sent home to me in the course of the day, and which had been hung on some pegs against the wainscot at the foot of my bed. One arm accidentally crossed two or three of the adjoining pegs, and the other was nearly parallel by coming in contact with some article of furniture which stood near. Now the mystery was developed: this dreadful hobgoblin, which a few minutes before I began to think was an aerial being, or sprite, and which must have gained admission either through the key-hole, or under the door, turned out to be my own garment. I smiled at my groundless fears, was pleased with any resolution, returned light-hearted to my bed, and moralized nearly the whole of the night on the simplicity of a great part of mankind in being so credulous as to believe every idle tale, or conceive every noise to be a spectre, without first duly examining into causes.
This very trifling accident was of great service to me as I travelled onward through life. Similar circumstances transpired. Screams, and shades, I encountered; which always, upon due investigation, ended in "trifles light as air."
Nor did the good end here. My story circulated, and put other young men upon the alert, to guard against similar delusions. They likewise imparted to me their ghostly encounters, and those I thought deserving of record I always committed to writing; and, as many of them are well authenticated facts, and both instructive and amusing, they form a part of the volume now presented to the Public.
The other stories are selected from history, and respectable publications; forming in the whole, I hope, an antidote against a too credulous belief in every village tale, or old gossip's story.
Though I candidly acknowledge to have received great pleasure in forming this Collection, I would by no means wish it to be imagined, that I am sceptical in my opinions, or entirely disbelieve and set my face against all apparitional record. No; I do believe that, for certain purposes, and on certain and all-wise occasions, such things are, and have been permitted by the Almighty; but by no means do I believe they are suffered to appear half so frequently as our modern ghost-mongers manufacture them. Among the various idle tales in circulation, nothing is more common than the prevalent opinion concerning what is generally called a death-watch, and which is vulgarly believed to foretel the death of some one in the family. "This is," observes a writer in the Philosophical Transactions, "a ridiculous fancy crept into vulgar heads, and employed to terrify and affright weak people as a monitor of approaching death." Therefore, to prevent such causeless fears, I shall take this opportunity to undeceive the world, by shewing what it is, and that no such thing is intended by it. It has obtained the name of death-watch, by making a little clinking noise like a watch; which having given some disturbance to a gentleman in his chamber, who was not to be affrighted with such vulgar errors, it tempted him to a diligent search after the true cause of this noise, which I shall relate in his own words.
"I have been, some time since, accompanied with this little noise. One evening, I sat down by a table from whence the noise proceeded, and laid my watch upon the same, and perceived, to my admiration, that the sound made by this invisible automaton was louder than that of the artificial machine. Its vibrations would fall as regular, but much quicker. Upon a strict examination, it was found to be nothing but a little beetle, or spider, in the wood of a box." Sometimes they are found in the plastering of a wall, and at other times in a rotten post, or in some old chest or trunk; and the noise is made by beating its head on the subject that it finds fit for sound. "The little animal that I found," says the gentleman, "was about two lines and a half long, calling a line the eighth part of an inch. The colour was a dark brown, with spots somewhat lighter, and irregularly placed, which could not easily be rubbed off." It was sent to the publisher of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.
Some people, influenced by common report, have fancied this little animal a spirit sent to admonish them of their deaths; and, to uphold the fancy, tell you of other strange monitors altogether as ridiculous. Though, as I before observed, I do not deny but the Almighty may employ unusual methods to warn us at times of our approaching ends, yet in general, such common and unaccountable tales are mere nonsense, originating from want of a proper investigation, and kept alive by an infatuated delight in telling strange stories, rendered more ridiculous by recapitulation. How charmingly does our poet Thomson touch upon this subject—
"Meantime the village rouses up the fire; While, well attested, and as well believ'd, Heard solemn, goes the goblin story round; Till superstitious horror creeps o'er all."
How cautious then ought parents and guardians to be over their children, and the young people committed to their charge. For, says an elegant writer, the superstitious impressions made upon their minds, by the tales of weak and ignorant people in their infancy; a time when the tender mind is most apt to receive the impressions of error and vice, as well as those of truth and virtue, and, having once received either the one or the other, is likely to retain them as long as it subsists in the body. All these deplorable follies proceed from wrong and unworthy apprehensions of God's providence, in his care of man, and government of the world. Surely no reasonable creature can ever imagine, that the all-wise God should inspire owls and ravens to hoot out the elegies of dying men; that he should have ordained a fatality in numbers, inflict punishment without an offence; and that being one amongst the fatal number at a table, should be a crime (though contrary to no command) not to be expiated but by death! Thus folly, like gunpowder, runs in a train from one generation to another, preserved and conveyed by the perpetual tradition of tattling gossips.
I now conclude this Introduction; and, in the following pages, shall present my readers with some admirable Essays on the subject by eminent writers: and a Collection of Stories will follow, which, I trust, will not only entertain, but likewise convince the thinking part of mankind of the absurdity in believing every silly tale without first tracing the promulgation to its original source; for
"Whatever warms the heart, or fills the head, As the mind opens, and its functions spread, Imagination plies her dangerous art, And pours it all upon the peccant part."
London, March 20, 1815.
GHOSTS AND APPARITIONS.
There is no folly more predominant, in the country at least, than a ridiculous and superstitious fear of ghosts and apparitions. Servants, nurses, old women, and others of the same standard of wisdom, to pass away the tediousness of a winter's evening, please and terrify themselves, and the children who compose their audience, with strange relations of these things, till they are even afraid of removing their eyes from one another, for fear of seeing a pale spectre entering the room. Frightful ideas raised in the minds of children take so strong a possession of the faculties, that they often remain for ever fixed, and all the arguments of reason are unable to remove them. Hence it is, that so many grown-up people still keep the ridiculous fears of their infancy. I know a lady, of very good sense in other things, who, if she is left by herself after ten o'clock at night, will faint away at the terror of thinking some horrid spectre, with eyes sunk, meagre countenance, and threatening aspect, is standing at her elbow. And an Officer in the Guards, of my acquaintance, who has often, abroad, shewn no concern in marching up to the mouth of a cannon, has not courage enough to be in the dark without company. As I take the fear of ghosts, like all other prejudices, to be imbibed in our infancy, I would recommend this advice to parents—to use the utmost care, that the minds of their children are not vitiated by their servants' tales of ghosts, hobgoblins, and bugbears; which, though told to please, or frighten them into good, seldom fail of producing the very worst effects.
There are some who are ghost-mad, and terrify themselves, because the Scripture has mentioned the appearance of ghosts. I shall not dispute, but, by the power of God, an incorporeal being may be visible to human eyes; but then, an all-wise Power would not have recourse to a preternatural effect but on some important occasion. Therefore, my intention is only to laugh a ridiculous fear out of the world, by shewing on what absurd and improbable foundations the common nature of ghosts and apparitions are built.
In the country, there are generally allowed to be two sorts of ghosts;—the vulgar ghost, and the ghost of dignity. The latter is always the spirit of some Lord of the Manor, or Justice of the Peace, who, still desirous to see how affairs go on in his parish, rattles through it in a coach and six, much about midnight. This ghost is, in every respect, the very same man that the person whom he represents was in his life-time. Nay, the spirit, though incorporeal, has on its body all the marks which the Squire had on his; the scar on the cheek, the dimple on the chin, and twenty other demonstrative signs, which are visible to any old woman in the parish, that can see clearly in a dark night!
The ghost keeps up to the character of a good old grave gentleman, who is heartily sorry to think his son will not live upon his estate, but rambles up to London, and runs it out, perhaps, in extravagance. He therefore does nothing inconsistent with the gravity of his character; but, still retaining the generous heart of a true Briton, keeps up his equipage, and loves good living and hospitality; for, a little time after the coach and six has, with a solemn rumble, passed through the village into his own court-yard, there is a great noise heard in the house, of servants running up and down stairs, the jacks going, and a great clattering of plates and dishes. Thus he spends an hour or two every midnight, in living well, after he has been some years dead; but is complaisant enough to leave every thing, at his departure, in the same position that he found them.
There is scarcely a little town in all England, but has an old female spirit appertaining to it, who, in her high-crown hat, nicely clean linen, and red petticoat, has been viewed by half the parish. This article of dress is of mighty concern among some ghosts; wherefore a skilful and learned apparition writer, in the Preface of Drelincourt on Death, makes a very pious ghost talk to a lady upon the important subject of scouring a mantua. Before I leave my ghost of dignity, I must take notice of some who delight to seem as formidable as possible, and who are not content with appearing without heads themselves, but their coachmen and horses must be without their's too, and the coach itself frequently all on fire. These spirits, I know not for what reason, are universally allowed to have been people of first quality, and courtiers.
As for the vulgar ghost, it seldom appears in its own bodily likeness, unless it be with a throat cut from ear to ear, or a winding-sheet; but humbly contents itself with the body of a white horse, that gallops over the meadows without legs, and grazes without a head. On other occasions, it takes the appearance of a black shock dog, which, with great goggle, glaring eyes, stares you full in the face, but never hurts you more than unmannerly pushing you from the wall. Sometimes a friendly ghost surprises you with a hand as cold as clay; at other times, that same ghostly hand gives three solemn raps, with several particularities, according to the different dispositions of the ghost.
The chief reason which calls them back again to visit the world by night, is their fondness for some old broad pieces, or a pot of money, they buried in their life-time; and they cannot rest to have it lie useless, therefore the gold raises them before the resurrection.
Mr. Addison's charming Essay, in the Spectator, is so applicable and prefatory to a work of this nature, that we cannot resist inserting that inimitable production in his own words.
"Going to dine," says he, "with an old acquaintance, I had the misfortune to find his whole family very much dejected. Upon asking him the occasion of it, he told me that his wife had dreamt a strange dream the night before, which they were afraid portended some misfortune to themselves or to their children. At her coming into the room, I observed a settled melancholy in her countenance, which I should have been troubled for, had I not heard from whence it proceeded. We were no sooner sat down, but, after having looked upon me a little while, 'My dear,' says she, turning to her husband, 'you may now see the stranger that was in the candle last night.' Soon after this, as they began to talk of family affairs, a little boy at the lower end of the table told her, that he was to go into join-hand on Thursday. 'Thursday!' says she; 'no, child; if it please God, you shall not begin upon Childermas-day; tell your writing-master, that Friday will be soon enough.' I was reflecting with myself on the oddness of her fancy, and wondering that any body would establish it as a rule to lose a day in every week. In the midst of these my musings, she desired me to reach her a little salt upon the point of my knife, which I did in such a trepidation and hurry of obedience, that I let it drop by the way; at which she immediately startled, and said it fell towards her. Upon this I looked very blank; and, observing the concern of the whole table, began to consider myself, with some confusion, as a person that had brought a disaster upon the family. The lady, however, recovering herself after a little space, said to her husband, with a sigh, 'My dear, misfortunes never come single.' My friend, I found, acted but an under part at his table; and, being a man of more good-nature than understanding, thinks himself obliged to fall in with all the passions and humours of his yoke-fellow. 'Do not you remember, child,' said she, 'that the pigeon-house fell the very afternoon that our careless wench spilt the salt upon the table?' 'Yes,' says he, 'my dear; and the next post brought us an account of the battle of Almanza.' The reader may guess at the figure I made, after having done all this mischief. I dispatched my dinner as soon as I could, with my usual taciturnity; when, to my utter confusion, the lady seeing me quitting my knife and fork, and laying them across one another upon the plate, desired me that I would humour her so far as to take them out of that figure, and place them side by side. What the absurdity was which I had committed, I did not know, but I suppose there was some traditionary superstition in it; and therefore, in obedience to the lady of the house, I disposed of my knife and fork in two parallel lines, which is the figure I shall always lay them in for the future, though I do not know any reason for it.
"It is not difficult for a man to see that a person has conceived an aversion to him. For my own part, I quickly found, by the lady's looks, that she regarded me as a very odd kind of fellow, with an unfortunate aspect. For which reason I took my leave immediately after dinner, and withdrew to my own lodgings. Upon my return home, I fell into a profound contemplation on the evils that attend these superstitious follies of mankind; how they subject us to imaginary afflictions and additional sorrows, that do not properly come within our lot. As if the natural calamities of life were not sufficient for it, we turn the most indifferent circumstances into misfortunes, and suffer as much from trifling accidents as from real evils. I have known the shooting of a star spoil a night's rest; and have seen a man in love grow pale, and lose his appetite, upon the plucking of a merry-thought. A screech-owl at midnight has alarmed a family more than a band of robbers; nay, the voice of a cricket hath struck more terror than the roaring of a lion. There is nothing so inconsiderable, which may not appear dreadful to an imagination that is filled with omens and prognostics. A rusty nail, or a crooked pin, shoot up into prodigies.
"I remember, I was once in a mixed assembly, that was full of noise and mirth, when on a sudden an old woman unluckily observed there were thirteen of us in company. This remark struck a panic terror into several who were present, insomuch that one or two of the ladies were going to leave the room: but a friend of mine, taking notice that one of our female companions was big with child, affirmed there were fourteen in the room; and that, instead of portending one of the company should die, it plainly foretold one of them should be born. Had not my friend found out this expedient to break the omen, I question not but half the women in the company would have fallen sick that very night.
"An old maid, that is troubled with the vapours, produces infinite disturbances of this kind among her friends and neighbours. I once knew a maiden aunt, of a great family, who is one of these antiquated sybils, that forebodes and prophesies from one end of the year to the other. She is always seeing apparitions, and hearing death-watches; and was the other day almost frightened out of her wits by the great house-dog, that howled in the stable at a time when she lay ill of the tooth-ach. Such an extravagant cast of mind engages multitudes of people not only in impertinent terrors, but in supernumerary duties of life; and arises from that fear and ignorance which are natural to the soul of man. The horror with which we entertain the thoughts of death or indeed of any future evil, and the uncertainty of its approach, fill a melancholy mind with innumerable apprehensions and suspicions, and consequently dispose it to the observation of such groundless prodigies and predictions. For, as it is the chief concern of wise men to retrench the evils of life by the reasonings of philosophy, it is the employment of fools to multiply them by the sentiments of superstition.
"For my own part, I should be very much troubled, were I endowed with this divining quality, though it should inform me truly of every thing that can befal me. I would not anticipate the relish of any happiness, nor feel the weight of any misery, before it actually arrives.
"I know but one way of fortifying my soul against these gloomy presages and terrors of mind; and that is, by securing to myself the friendship and protection of that Being who disposes of events, and governs futurity. He sees at one view the whole thread of my existence; not only that part of it which I have already passed through, but that which runs forward into all the depths of eternity. When I lay me down to sleep, I recommend myself to his care; when I awake, I give myself up to his direction. Amidst all the evils that threaten me, I will look up to him for help and question not but he will either avert them, or turn them to my advantage. Though I know neither the time nor the manner of the death I am to die, I am not at all solicitous about it; because I am sure that he knows them both, and that he will not fail to comfort and support me under them."
In another paper, the same gentleman thus expresses himself on the same subject:—
"I remember, last winter, there were several young girls of the neighbourhood sitting about the fire with my landlady's daughters, and telling stories of spirits and apparitions. Upon my opening the door, the young women broke off their discourse; but my landlady's daughters telling them it was nobody but the gentleman (for that is the name which I go by in the neighbourhood as well as in the family), they went on without minding me. I seated myself by the candle that stood on a table at one end of the room; and, pretending to read a book that I took out of my pocket, heard several dreadful stories of ghosts as pale as ashes, that stood at the feet of a bed, or walked over a church-yard by moonlight; and of others that had been conjured into the Red Sea, for disturbing people's rest, and drawing their curtains at midnight; with many other old women's fables of the like nature. As one spirit raised another, I observed that at the end of every story the whole company closed their ranks, and crowded about the fire. I took notice in particular of a little boy, who was so attentive to every story, that I am mistaken if he ventures to go to bed by himself this twelvemonth. Indeed, they talked so long, that the imaginations of the whole assembly were manifestly crazed, and, I am sure, will be the worse for it as long as they live. I heard one of the girls, that had looked upon me over her shoulder, asking the company how long I had been in the room, and whether I did not look paler than I used to do. This put me under some apprehensions that I should be forced to explain myself, if I did not retire; for which reason I took the candle in my hand, and went up into my chamber, not without wondering at this unaccountable weakness in reasonable creatures, that they should love to astonish and terrify one another. Were I a father, I should take particular care to preserve my children from those little horrors of imagination, which they are apt to contract when they are young, and are not able to shake off when they are in years. I have known a soldier, that has entered a breach, affrighted at his own shadow, and look pale upon a little scratching at his door, who the day before had marched up against a battery of cannon. There are instances of persons who have been terrified, even to distraction, at the figure of a tree, or the shaking of a bulrush. The truth of it is, I look upon a sound imagination as the greatest blessing of life, next to a clear judgment and a good conscience. In the mean time, since there are very few whose minds are not more or less subject to these dreadful thoughts and apprehensions, we ought to arm ourselves against them by the dictates of reason and religion, to pull the old woman out of our hearts (as Persius expresses it), and extinguish those impertinent notions which we imbibed at a time that we were not able to judge of their absurdity. Or, if we believe, as many wise and good men have done, that there are such phantoms and apparitions as those I have been speaking of, let us endeavour to establish to ourselves an interest in Him who holds the reins of the whole creation in his hand, and moderates them after such a manner, that it is impossible for one being to break loose upon another without his knowledge and permission.
"For my own part, I am apt to join in opinion with those who believe that all the regions of nature swarm with spirits; and that we have multitudes of spectators on all our actions, when we think ourselves most alone. But, instead of terrifying myself with such a notion, I am wonderfully pleased to think that I am always engaged with such an innumerable society, in searching out the wonders of the creation, and joining in the same concert of praise and adoration.
"Milton has finely described this mixed communion of men and spirits in Paradise; and had, doubtless, his eye upon a verse in old Hesiod, which is almost, word for word, the same with his third line in the following passage:—
'——Nor think, though men were none, That Heav'n would want spectators, God want praise: Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth Unseen, both when we wake and when we sleep; All these with ceaseless praise his works behold, Both day and night. How often from the steep Of echoing hill or thicket have we heard Celestial voices to the midnight air, Sole, or responsive each to other's note, Singing their great Creator? Oft in bands, While they keep watch, or nightly rounding walk, With heav'nly touch of instrumental sounds, In full harmonic number join'd, their songs Divide the night, and lift our thoughts to heav'n.'—"
Another celebrated writer says—"Some are over credulous in these stories, others sceptical and distrustful, and a third sort perfectly infidel.
"Mr. Locke assures us, we have as clear an idea of spirit as of body. But, if it be asked, how a spirit, that never was embodied, can form to itself a body, and come up into a world where it has no right of residence, and have all its organs perfected at once; or how a spirit, once embodied, but now in a separate state, can take up its carcase out of the grave, sufficiently repaired, and make many resurrections before the last; or how the dead can counterfeit their own bodies, and make to themselves an image of themselves; by what ways and means, since miracles ceased, this transformation can be effected; by whose leave and permission, or by what power and authority, or with what wise design, and for what great ends and purposes, all this is done, we cannot easily imagine; and the divine and philosopher together will find it very difficult to resolve such questions.
"Before the Christian aera, some messages from the other world might be of use, if not necessary, in some cases, and on some extraordinary occasions; but since that time we want no new, nor can we have any surer, informations.
"Conscience, indeed, is a frightful apparition itself; and I make no question but it oftentimes haunts an oppressing criminal into restitution, and is a ghost to him sleeping or waking: nor is it the least testimony of an invisible world, that there is such a drummer as that in the soul, that can beat an alarm when he pleases, and so loud, as no other noise can drown it, no music quiet it, no power silence it, no mirth allay it, and no bribe corrupt it."
Inexhaustible are the opinions on this subject: therefore we shall conclude this Essay, and proceed to the more illustrative part of our work, without any further quotations; for various are the methods proposed by the learned for the laying of ghosts and apparitions. Artificial ones are easily quieted, if we only take them for real and substantial beings, and proceed accordingly. Thus, when a Friar, personating an apparition, haunted the apartment of the late Emperor Joseph, King Augustus, then at the Imperial court, flung him out of the window, and laid him upon the pavement so effectually, that he never rose or appeared again in this world.
An Extraordinary Event that happened lately at Aix-la-Chapelle.
As the following story, which is averred to be authentic, and to have happened very lately, may serve to shew, that the stories of this kind, with which the public are, from time to time, every now and then alarmed, are nothing more than artful impostures, it is presumed, it will be useful as well as entertaining to our readers to give it a place.
A person who kept a lodging-house near the springs at Aix-la-Chapelle, having lost his wife, committed the management of his family to his daughter, a sprightly, well-made, handsome girl, about twenty.
There were, at that time, in the house, two ladies and their waiting-woman, two Dutch officers, and a Dominican Friar.
It happened, that, as the young woman of the house was asleep one night in her bed, she was awakened by something that attempted to draw the clothes off the bed. She was at first frightened; but thinking, upon recollection, that it might be the house-dog, she called him by his name. The clothes, however, were still pulled from her; and she still imagining it was by the dog, took up a brush that lay in her reach, and attempted to strike him. At that moment she saw a flash of sudden light, that filled the whole room; upon which she shrieked out; all was again dark and silent, and the clothes were no longer drawn from her.
In the morning, when she related this story, every one treated it as a dream; and the girl herself at last took it for granted, that it was no more than an illusion.
The night following, she was again awakened by something that jogged her, and she thought she felt a hand in the bed; upon endeavouring to repress it, another flash of lightning threw her into a fit of terror: she shut her eyes, and crossed herself. When she ventured to open her eyes again, the light was vanished; but, in a short time, she felt what she supposed to be a hand again in the bed: she again endeavoured to repress it, and, looking towards the foot of the bed, saw a large luminous cross, on which was written distinctly, as with light, the words, "Be Silent!" She was now so terrified, that she had not power to break the injunction, but shrunk down into the bed, and covered herself over with the clothes.
In this situation she continued a considerable time; but, being again molested, she ventured once more to peep out, when, to her unspeakable astonishment, she saw a phantasm stand by the side of her bed, almost as high as the ceiling: a kind of glory encircled its head, and the whole was in the form of a crucifix, except that it seemed to have several hands, one of which again approached the bed.
Supposing the phenomenon to be some celestial vision, she exerted all her fortitude, and, leaping out of bed, threw herself upon her knees before it; but she instantly found herself assaulted in a manner which convinced her she was mistaken: she had not strength to disengage herself from something that embraced her, and therefore screamed out as loud as she could, to alarm the house, and bring somebody to her assistance.
Her shrieks awakened the ladies who lay in an adjacent chamber, and they sent their woman to see what was the matter. The woman, upon opening the room, saw a luminous phantasm, which greatly terrified her, and heard, in a deep threatening tone, the words—"At thy peril be gone!"
The woman instantly screamed out, and withdrew: the ladies rose in the utmost consternation and terror, but nobody came to their assistance: the old man, the father of the girl, was asleep in a remote part of the house; the Friar also rested in a room at the end of a long gallery in another story; and the two Dutch officers were absent on a visit, at a neighbouring village.
No other violence, however, was offered to the girl that night. As soon as the morning dawned, she got up, ran down to her father, and told all that had happened: the two ladies were not long absent; they did not say much, but quitted the house. The Friar asked the girl several questions, and declared that he had heard other instances of the like nature, but said, the girl would do well to obey the commands of the vision, and that no harm would come of it. He said, he would remain to see the issue; and, in the mean time, ordered proper prayers and masses to be said at a neighbouring convent of his order, to which he most devoutly joined his own.
The girl was comforted with this spiritual assistance; but, notwithstanding, took one of the maids to be her bedfellow the next night. In the dead of the night, the flaming cross was again visible, but no attempt was made on either of the women. They were, however, greatly terrified; and the servant said, she would rather leave her place, than lie in the room again.
The Friar, the next morning, took the merit of the spirit's peaceable behaviour to himself. The prayers and masses were renewed, and application was made to the convents at Liege for auxiliary assistance. The good Friar, in the mean time, was by no means idle at home: he performed his devotions with great ardour, and towards evening bestowed a plentiful libation of holy water on the chamber and the bed.
The girl not being able to persuade the servant to sleep with her again in the haunted room, and being encouraged by the Friar to abide the issue, having also great confidence herself in the prayers, masses, and sprinklings, that had been used on the occasion, she ventured once more to sleep in the same room by herself.
In the night, after hearing some slight noises, she saw the room all in a blaze, and a great number of luminous crosses, with scraps of writing here and there very legible, among which the precept to be silent was most conspicuous.
In the middle of the room she saw something of a human appearance, which seemed covered only with a linen garment, like a shirt: it appeared to diffuse a radiance round it; and, at length, by a slow and silent pace, approached the bed.
When it came up to the bed-side, it drew the curtain more open, and, lifting up the bed-clothes, was about to come in. The girl, now more terrified than ever, screamed out with all her power. As every body in the house was upon the watch, she was heard by them all; but the father only had courage to go to her assistance, and his bravery was probably owing to a considerable quantity of reliques, which he had procured from the convent, and which he brought in his hand.
When he came, however, nothing was to be seen but some of the little crosses and inscriptions, several of which were now luminous only in part.
Being himself greatly terrified at these appearances, he ran to the Friar's apartment, and with some difficulty prevailed upon him to go with him to the haunted room. The Friar at first excused himself upon account of the young woman's being there in bed. As soon as he entered, and saw the crosses, he prostrated himself on the ground, and uttered many prayers and incantations, to which the honest landlord most heartily said Amen.
The poor girl, in the mean time, lay in a kind of trance; and her father, when the prayers were over, ran down stairs for some wine, a cordial being necessary to recover her: the Friar, at the same time, ordered him to light and bring with him a consecrated taper; for hitherto they had no light but that of the vision, which was still strong enough to discover every thing in the room.
In a short time the old man entered with a taper in his hand; and in a moment all the luminous appearances vanished. The girl, soon after, recovered, and gave a very sensible account of all that had happened; and the landlord and the Friar spent the rest of the night together.
The Friar, however, to shew the power of the daemon, and the holy virtue of the taper, removed it several times from the chamber, before the day broke, and the crosses and inscriptions were again visible, and remained so till the taper was brought back, and then vanished as at first.
When the sun arose, the Friar took his leave to go to matins, and did not return till noon. In the mean time the two Dutch officers came home, and soon learnt what had happened, though the landlord took all the pains he could to conceal it. The reports they heard were confirmed by the pale and terrified appearance of the girl; their curiosity was greatly excited, and they asked her innumerable questions. Her answers, instead of extinguishing, increased it. They assured the landlord, they would not leave his house, but, on the contrary, would afford him all the assistance in their power.
As they were young gentlemen of a military profession, and Protestants, they were at once bold and incredulous. They pretended, however, to adopt the opinion of the landlord, that the appearances were supernatural; but it happened that, upon going into the room, they found the remainder of the taper, on the virtues of which the landlord had so largely expatiated, and immediately perceived that it was only a common candle of a large size, which he had brought by mistake in his fright.
This discovery convinced them that there was a fraud, and that appearances that vanished at the approach of unconsecrated light must be produced by mere human artifice.
They therefore consulted together, and at length agreed, that the masses should be continued; that the landlord should not say one word of the candle, or the suspicions it had produced; that his daughter, the next night, should sleep in the apartment which had been quitted by the ladies; and that one of the officers should lie in the girl's bed, while the other, with the landlord, should wait in the kitchen, to see the issue.
This plan was accordingly, with great secrecy, carried into execution.
For two hours after the officer had been in bed, all was silent and quiet, and he began to suspect that the girl had either been fanciful, or that their secret had transpired: when, all on a sudden, he heard the latch of the door gently raised; and, perceiving something approach the bed and attempt to take up the clothes, he resisted with sufficient strength to frustrate the attempt, and immediately the room appeared to be all in a flame; he saw many crosses, and inscriptions enjoining silence and a passive acquiescence in whatever should happen; he saw also, in the middle of the room, something of a human appearance, very tall, and very luminous. The officer was at first struck with terror, and the vision made a second approach to the bed-side; but the gentleman, recovering his fortitude with the first moment of reflection, dexterously threw a slip knot, which he had fastened to one of the bed-posts, over the phantom's neck: he instantly drew it close, which brought him to the ground, and then threw himself upon him. The fall and the struggle made so much noise, that the other officer and the landlord ran up with lights and weapons; and the goblin was found to be no other than the good Friar, who, having conceived something more than a spiritual affection for his landlord's pretty daughter, had played this infernal farce, to gratify his passion.
Being now secured and detected, beyond hope of subterfuge or escape, he made a full confession of his guilt, and begged earnestly for mercy.
It appeared that this fellow, who was near six feet high, had made himself appear still taller, by putting upon his head a kind of tiara of embossed paper, and had also thrust a stick through the sleeves of his habit, which formed the appearance of a cross, and still left his hands at liberty; and that he had rendered himself and his apparatus visible in the dark by phosphorus.
The landlord contented himself with giving his reverence a hearty drubbing, and then turning him out of doors, with a strict injunction to quit the territory of Liege for ever, upon pain of being much more severely treated.
When it is considered, that it is but a few years ago, that a poor woman, within twenty miles of London, lost her life upon supposition that she was a witch; and that it is not many years since the Cock-lane ghost found advocates, even in the heart of London itself, among those who, before, were never accounted fools; it cannot but be useful to put down on record every imposition of this kind.
In the letters from a gentleman on his travels in Italy to his friend in England, is the following curious account of an experiment tried with the Bolognian stone, of which phosphorus is made.
There was an English maid-servant in the house where we lodged, (observes this gentleman), and her bed-chamber was immediately over the one occupied by myself and friend. My companion having found his way into it, or, at least, supposing he had done so, wrote with some paste made merely with flour and water, the terrible words—"REMEMBER DEATH!" in great capitals, on the inside of the bed-curtains. Over the wet letters he strewed some of the crust prepared from this stone, which he had powdered for that purpose in a mortar; and, when he had so done, called me up, to see the words in letters of fire. We sat up for the discovery; but something very different from what we had expected, happened. The Italians are bigots, and consequently superstitious. It happened that the room, into which my friend had found his way, was not, as he imagined, that of the maid-servant, but of a couple of devout people, who accidentally slept in the house. We heard them undress; and followed our scheme, by getting on the upper stairs near the door of the room: we heard two voices, and we saw the candle on a table near the bed-side. The lady was first in bed; and the good man no sooner followed, than the candle was put out. On the instant of its extinction, appeared the terrible words. The lady screamed her prayers; the husband trembled over his Ave-Marias. The letters were absolutely fire, and the bed was not injured. The language was unintelligible to those who saw the words; and, perhaps, it was in that respect more terrifying, than if the admonition had been understood. The Mene Tekel of the prophet came into both their minds at once. They jumped out of bed, and alarmed the whole house. We were first in the room. My friend took occasion, in their confusion, to scrape off the whole matter very cleanly with his pocket knife. The company brought candles—there was nothing to be seen. Both husband and wife pointed to the place where the writing had appeared; but nothing but some smeared dirt was visible there. My friend kept his counsel, and the miracle was blazed all over Bologna the next day; and we left a legion of wondering priests in the house at our departure!
A young gentleman, going down from London to the west of England, to the house of a very worthy gentleman, to whom he had the honour to be related; it happened, that the gentleman's house was at that time full, by season of a kinswoman's wedding, that had lately been kept there. He therefore told the young gentleman, that he was very glad to see him, and that he was very welcome to him: "But," said he, "I know not how I shall do for a lodging for you; for my cousin's marriage has not left a room free, save one, and that is haunted; but if you will lie there, you shall have a very good bed, and all other accommodations." "Sir," replied the young gentleman, "you will very much oblige me by letting me lie there; for I have often coveted to be in a place that was haunted." The gentleman, very glad that his kinsman was so well pleased with his accommodations, ordered the chamber to be got ready, and a good fire to be made in it, it being winter-time. When bed-time came, the young gentleman was conducted up into his chamber, which, besides a good fire, was furnished with all suitable accommodations; and, having recommended himself to the Divine protection, went to bed. Lying some time awake, and finding no disturbance, he fell asleep; out of which, however, he was awaked about three o'clock in the morning, by the opening of the chamber-door, and the entrance of somebody in the appearance of a young woman, having a night-dress on her head, and only her shift on: but he had no perfect view of her, for his candle was burnt out; and though there was a fire in the room, yet it gave not light enough to see her distinctly. But this unknown visitant going to the chimney, took the poker, and stirred up the fire; by the flaming light whereof, he could discern the appearance of a young gentlewoman more distinctly; but whether it was flesh and blood, or an airy phantom, he knew not. This appearance having stood some time before the fire, as if to warm itself, at last walked two or three times about the room, and then came to the bed-side; where having stood a little while, she took up the bed-clothes, and went into bed, pulling the bed-clothes upon her again, and lying very quietly. The young gentleman was a little startled at this unknown bed-fellow; and, upon her approach, lay on the further side of the bed, not knowing whether he had best rise or not. At last, lying very still, he perceived his bed-fellow to breathe; by which guessing her to be flesh and blood, he drew nearer to her, and taking her by the hand, found it warm, and that it was no airy phantom, but substantial flesh and blood; and finding she had a ring on her finger, he took it off unperceived. The gentlewoman being all this while asleep, he let her lie without disturbing her, and patiently waited the result of this singular situation. He had not long remained in suspense, when his fair companion hastily flung off the bed-clothes again, and getting up, walked three or four times about the room; as she had done before; and then, standing awhile before the door, opened it, went out, and shut it after her. The young gentleman, perceiving by this in what manner the room was haunted, rose up, and locked the door on the inside; and then lay down again, and slept till morning; at which time the master of the house came to him, to know how he did, and whether he had seen any thing, or not? He told him, that an apparition had appeared to him, but begged the favour of him that he would not urge him to say any thing further, till the whole family were all together. The gentleman complied with his request, telling his young friend, that, having found him well, he was perfectly satisfied.
The desire the whole family had to know the issue of this affair, made them dress with more expedition than usual, so that there was a general assembly of the gentlemen and ladies before eleven o'clock, not one of them being willing to appear in dishabille. When they were all got together in the great hall, the young gentleman told them, he had one favour to desire of the ladies before he would say any thing, and that was, to know whether either of them had lost a ring? The young gentlewoman, from whose finger it was taken, having missed it all the morning, and not knowing how she lost it, was glad to hear of it again, and readily owned she wanted a ring. The young gentleman asked her if that was it, giving it into her hand, which she acknowledging to be her's, and thanking him, he turned to his kinsman, the master of the house—"Now Sir," said he, "I can assure you," (taking the gentlewoman by the hand) "this is the lovely spirit by which your chamber is haunted."—And thereupon repeated what is related.
I want words to express the confusion the young gentlewoman seemed to be in at this relation, who declared herself perfectly ignorant of all that he said; but believed it might be so, because of the ring, which she perfectly well remembered she had on when she went to bed, and knew not how she had lost it.
This relation gave the whole company a great deal of diversion; for, after all, the father declared, that since his daughter had already gone to bed to his kinsman, it should be his fault if he did not go to bed to his daughter, he being willing to bestow her upon him, and give her a good portion. This generous offer was so advantageous to the young gentleman, that he could by no means refuse it; and his late bed-fellow, hearing what her father had said, was easily prevailed upon to accept him for her husband.
POWER OF IMAGINATION.
It has been remarked, that when the royal vault is opened for the interment of any of the royal family, Westminster Abbey is a place of great resort: some flock thither out of curiosity, others to indulge their solemn meditations.
By the former of these motives it was, when the royal vault was opened for the interment of her illustrious Majesty Queen Caroline, that five or six gentlemen who had dined together at a tavern were drawn to visit that famous repository of the titled dead. As they descended down the steep descent, one cried—"It's hellish dark;" another stopped his nostrils, and exclaimed against the nauseous vapour that ascended from it; all had their different sayings. But, as it is natural for such spectacles to excite some moral reflections, even with the most gay and giddy, they all returned with countenances more serious than those they had entered with.
Having agreed to pass the evening together, they all went back to the place where they dined; and the conversation turned on a future state, apparitions, and some such topics. One among them was an infidel in those matters, especially as to spirits becoming visible, and took upon him to rally the others, who seemed rather inclinable to the contrary way of thinking. As it is easier to deny than to prove, especially where those that maintain the negative will not admit any testimonies which can be brought against their own opinion, he singly held out against all they had to alledge. To end the contest, they proposed to him a wager of twenty guineas, that, as great a hero as he pretended, or really imagined himself, he had not courage enough to go alone at midnight into the vault they had seen that day. This he readily accepted, and was very merry with the thoughts of getting so much money with such ease. The money on both sides was deposited in the hands of the master of the house; and one of the vergers was sent for, whom they engaged, for a piece of gold, to attend the adventurer to the gate of the cathedral, then shut him in, and wait his return.
Every thing being thus settled, the clock no sooner struck twelve, than they all set out together; they who laid the wager being resolved not to be imposed on by his tampering with the verger. As they passed along, a scruple arose, which was, that though they saw him enter the church, how they should be convinced he went as far as the vault; but he instantly removed their doubts, by pulling out a pen-knife he had in his pocket, and saying, "This will I stick into the earth, and leave it there; and if you do not find it in the inside of the vault, I will own the wager lost." These words left them nothing to suspect; and they agreed to wait at the door his coming out, believing he had no less stock of resolution than he had pretended: it is possible, the opinion they had of him was no more than justice.
But, whatever stock of courage he had, on his entrance into that antique and reverend pile, he no sooner found himself shut alone in it, than, as he afterwards confessed, he found a kind of shuddering all over him, which, he was sensible, proceeded from something more than the coldness of the night. Every step he took was echoed by the hollow ground; and, though it was not altogether dark, the verger having left a lamp burning just before the door that led to the chapel (otherwise it would have been impossible for him to have found the place), yet did the glimmering it gave, rather add to, than diminish, the solemn horror of every thing around.
He passed on, however; but protested, had not the shame of being laughed at, prevented him, he would have forfeited more than twice the sum he had staked to have been safe out again. At length he reached the entrance of the vault: his inward terror increased; yet, determined not to be overpowered by fear, he descended; and being come to the last stair, stooped forwards, and struck the pen-knife with his whole force into the earth. But, as he was rising in order to quit so dreadful a place, he felt something pluck him forward; the apprehension he before was in, made an easy way for surprise and terror to seize on all his faculties: he lost in one instant every thing that could support him, and fell into a swoon, with his head in the vault, and part of his body on the stairs.
Till after one o'clock his friends waited with some degree of patience, though they thought he paid the titled dead a much longer visit than a living man could choose. But, finding he did not come, they began to fear some accident: the verger, they found, though accustomed to the place, did not choose to go alone; they therefore went with him, preceded by a torch, which a footman belonging to one of the company had with him. They all went into the Abbey, calling, as they went, as loud as they could: no answer being made, they moved on till they came to the vault; where, looking down, they soon perceived what posture he was in. They immediately used every means they could devise for his recovery, which they soon effected.
After they got him out of the Abbey to the fresh air, he fetched two or three deep groans; and, in the greatest agitation, cried, "Heaven help me! Lord have mercy upon me!" These exclamations very much surprised them; but, imagining he was not yet come perfectly to his senses, they forbore farther questions, till they had got him into the tavern, where, having placed him in a chair, they began to ask how he did, and how he came to be so indisposed. He gave them a faithful detail, and said, he should have come back with the same sentiments he went with, had not an unseen hand convinced him of the injustice of his unbelief. While he was making his narrative, one of the company saw the pen-knife sticking through the fore-lappet of his coat. He immediately conjectured the mistake; and, pulling out the pen-knife before them all, cried out, "Here is the mystery discovered: for, in the attitude of stooping to stick the knife in the ground, it happened, as you see, to go through the coat; and, on your attempting to rise, the terror you was in magnified this little obstruction into an imaginary impossibility of withdrawing yourself, and had an effect on your senses before reason had time to operate." This, which was evidently the case, set every one, except the gentleman who had suffered so much by it, into a roar of laughter. But it was not easy to draw a single smile from him: he ruminated on the affair, while his companions rallied and ridiculed this change in him: he well remembered the agitations he had been in. "Well," replied he; when he had sufficiently recovered, "there is certainly something after death, or these strange impulses could never be. What is there in a church more than in any other building? what in darkness more than light, which in themselves should have power to raise such ideas as I have now experienced? Yes," continued he, "I am convinced that I have been too presumptuous: and, whether spirits be or be not permitted to appear, that they exist, I ever shall believe."
A few years since, some Westminster scholars received great insult from a hackney-coachman, who treated them with the greatest scurrility, because they would not comply with an overcharge in his fare. This behaviour the youths did not forget, and were resolved to punish him without danger of prosecution; upon which one of them devised the following whimsical turn of revenge.
Four of these gentlemen, one dark evening, about nine o'clock, (having previously learned where his coach would be) called him from off the stand, and desired the coachman to drive over Westminster Bridge to Newington. They had not long been seated, when one of them, with a sportive tone of voice, said, "Come, boys, let us begin."
They then instantly dressed themselves in black clothes, and every necessary befitting mourners at a funeral, (which articles they brought with them in small parcels.) And the night was particularly favourable for carrying their scheme into execution: for it was uncommonly dark, and very still. 'Twas such a night that Apollonius Rhodius thus describes—
"Night on the earth pour'd darkness; on the sea, The wakesome sailor to Orion's star And Helice turn'd heedful. Sunk to rest, The traveller forgot his toil; his charge, The centinel; her death-devoted babe, The mother's painless breast. The village dog Had ceas'd his troublous bay: each busy tumult Was hush'd at this dread hour; and darkness slept, Lock'd in the arms of silence."
To terrify him the more, they wore linen hat-bands and scarfs, instead of crape. And when they had got into the loneliest part of St. George's Fields (for at that time they were not built over as at present), they called to him, and desired him to stop, as they wanted to get out.
They marked the side the coachman came to open the door of; and he that sat next the other door, opened it at the same instant.
What the coachman felt on seeing the first mourner move out with the greatest solemnity, can be better conceived than expressed: but what were his terrors when the second approached him, a majestic spare figure about six feet perpendicular, who passed him (as did the first) without speaking a word.
As fast as one youth got out, he went round to the other side of the coach, stepped in, and came out a second time at the opposite door.
In this manner they continued, till the coachman, if he had the power of counting, might have told forty.
When they had thus passed out seemingly to the number of twenty, the poor devil of a coachman, frightened almost to death, fell upon his knees, and begged for mercy's sake the King of Terrors would not suffer any more of his apparitions to appear; for, though he had a multitude of sins to account for, he had a wife and a large family of children, who depended upon his earnings for support.
The tallest of these young gentlemen then asked him, in a hoarse tone of voice, what was his heaviest sin? He replied, committing his lodger, a poor carver and gilder, to the Marshalsea, for rent due to him, which the badness of the times, and his business in particular, would not enable him to pay. He said, he would not have confined him so long, but in revenge for a severe beating he gave him one day when they fell to loggerheads and boxed. He further told them, the poor man had been six months in captivity; and that he understood from a friend of his, the other day, that he made out but a miserable living by making brewers' pegs, bungs for their barrels, and watchmakers' skewers.
The young gentleman then told him, that if he did not instantly sign his discharge, which he would write, he might rest assured of no mitigation of the dreadful punishment he would go through in a few minutes; for those he had seen come out of his coach were his harpies in disguise, and were now in readiness to bear him to the infernal regions.
The trembling villain, without the least hesitation, complied. One of the scholars fortunately having a pen and ink, the King of Terrors wrote the discharge in a fair leaf of his pocket-book, as well as he could in the dark, and then made the coachman sign it.
Having so done, the scholars told him he might go for the present, and that he would find his coach in less than an hour in Piccadilly or Oxford Street.
One of the youths then mounted the box, while the others got within, and away they drove to the Marshalsea, but in the way they stopped till they had taken off their disguise.
The youth who had the discharge, after making a collection among the others, went into the prison, and gave the poor fellow what set him at liberty the next morning.
The scholars then drove on to Oxford Street, congratulating themselves on the success of their adventure, and all happy to a degree of rapture at being instrumental in obtaining the captive's liberty.
About a quarter of an hour after they quitted the coach, they observed the coachman arrive; who mounted the box, and drove home, muttering the bitterest execrations, and damning his father confessor for bilking him of half a guinea which he gave him that morning for an absolution, that was to have rubbed out the entire score of his transgressions.
The following extraordinary affair happened about ten years since, at a village in the north of England.
About midnight, the minister of the parish was not a little alarmed at hearing the church bell tolling. He immediately dispatched one of his servants for the beadle, to inquire into the cause of this wonderful event; who, when he came, appeared to be under more dreadful apprehensions than the clergyman himself. However, the result of their deliberations was, that, in order to be certainly informed of the truth and ground of the matter, they should go forward to the church: but, on their way, what served considerably to increase their fears, was their seeing a light within the church. The great bell gave over tolling, and was succeeded, in its turn, by the little, or handbell (commonly used in that country at funerals), which, in a short time, also became silent. On their near approach to the church, they discovered, by the help of the light within, the mort-cloth moving up and down the area thereof. Though this last part of the dreadful scene might have been sufficient to intimidate persons possessed of no ordinary degree of courage; yet such was the bravery and resolution of the Reverend Doctor, that he even ventured to accost the nocturnal disturber of their repose: when, on lifting up the mort-cloth, to his inexpressible surprise, he discovered the terrible apparition to be only an unhappy young man belonging to the parish, who had for some time past been disordered in his senses, and who had got into the church by some secret means or other, and, as the good Doctor readily conjectured, was amusing himself in this manner, by the representation of a funeral: a case not at all unlikely, as ideots in general are remarkably fond of any thing relative to a funeral procession.
The following anecdote is related by Adrianus Turnibis, the greatest critic of the sixteenth century, and who was admired and respected by all the learned in Europe.
"There was a crafty fellow," says he, "called Petrus Brabantius, who, as often as he pleased, would speak from his stomach, with his mouth indeed open, but his lips unmoved, of which I have been repeatedly an eye and ear witness. In this manner he put divers cheats on several persons: amongst others, the following was well known.
"There was a merchant of Lyons, lately dead, who had acquired a great estate by unjust dealings. Brabantius happening to be at Lyons, and hearing of this, comes one day to Cornutus, the son and heir of this merchant, as he walked in a portico behind the church-yard, and tells him that he was sent to inform him of what was to be done by him; and that it was more requisite to think about the soul and reputation of his father, than thus wander about the church-yard, lamenting his death. In an instant, while they were thus discoursing, a voice was heard, as if it was that of the father, though, in reality, it proceeded from his own stomach. Brabantius seemed terribly affrighted. The voice informed the son the state his father was in by reason of his injustice, what tortures he endured in purgatory, both on his own, and his son's account, whom he had left heir of his ill-gotten goods: that no freedom was to be expected by him, till just expiation was made by giving alms to such as stood most in need, and that these were the Christians who were taken by the Turks: that he should put entire confidence in the man who was by special providence now come to him, and give him money, to be employed by religious persons for the ransom of so many as were captives at Constantinople. Cornutus, who was a good sort of a man, yet loth to part with his money, told Brabantius that he would advise upon it; and desired he would meet him in the same place the next day. In the mean time, he began to suspect there might be some fraud in the place, as it was shady, dark, and fit for echoes or other delusions. The next day, therefore, he takes him to an open plain, where there was neither bush nor briar; but there, notwithstanding all his precaution, he hears the same story, with this addition, that he should forthwith deliver Brabantius six thousand franks, and purchase three masses daily to be said for him, or else the miserable soul of his father could not be freed. Cornutus, though thus bound by conscience, duty, and religion, yet with reluctance delivered him the money, without taking any receipt, or having any witness to the payment of it. Having thus dismissed him, and hearing no more of his father, he became somewhat more pleasant than he had been since his father's death. One day this change in him was observed by some friends, who were at dinner at his house; upon which he told them what had befallen him: when his friends so derided him, one and all, for his credulity, in being so simply cheated of his money, that, for mere grief and vexation, within a few days after, he died."
The following curious affair happened a few years since at Paris, and is well attested by a gentleman of the greatest respectability.
A widow-lady, aged about sixty-two, who lodged in a two-pair-of-stairs floor, in the Rue de la Ferronnerie, with only a maid-servant, was accustomed to spend several hours every day at her devotions, before the altar dedicated to St. Paul, in a neighbouring church. Some villains observing her extreme bigotry, resolved (as she was known to be very rich) to share her wealth. Therefore one of them took the opportunity to conceal himself behind the carved work of the altar; and when no person but the old lady was in the church, in the dusk of the evening, he contrived to throw a letter just before her. She took it up, and not perceiving any one near her, supposed it came by a miracle; which she was the more confirmed in, when she saw it was signed, Paul the Apostle, and purported, "The satisfaction he received by her addressing her prayers to him, at a time when so many new-canonized saints engrossed the devotion of the world, and robbed the primitive saints of great part of their wonted adoration; and, to shew his regard for his devotee, said, he would come from Heaven, with the angel Gabriel, to sup with her, at eight in the evening."
It is scarcely credible to think any one could be deceived by so gross a fraud: but to what length of credulity, will not superstition carry the weak mind! The infatuated lady believed it all; and rose from her knees in a transport, to prepare the entertainment for the heavenly guests she expected.
When the supper was bespoke, and the sideboard set out to the best advantage, she thought that her own plate (which was worth near four hundred pounds sterling) did not make so elegant a shew as she desired; therefore sent to her brother (who was a Counsellor of the Parliament of Paris) to borrow all his plate; charging her maid not to tell the occasion, but only, that she had company to supper, and should be obliged to him if he would lend her his plate for that evening. The Counsellor was surprised at this message, as he knew the frugality of his sister's way of life; and suspected that she was enamoured with some fortune-hunter, who might marry her for her fortune, and thereby deprive the family of what he expected at his sister's death: therefore he absolutely refused to send the plate, unless the maid would tell him what guests she expected. The girl, alarmed for her mistress's honour, replied, that her pious lady had no thoughts of a husband; but that, as St. Paul had sent her a letter from heaven, saying, that he and the Angel Gabriel would come to supper with her, her mistress wanted to make the entertainment as elegant as possible. The Counsellor, who knew the turn of his sister's mind, immediately suspected some villains had imposed on her; and sent the maid directly with the plate, while he went to the Commissary of the quarter, and gave him this information. The magistrate accompanied him to a house adjoining, from whence they saw, just before eight o'clock, a tall man, dressed in long vestments, with a white beard, and a young man in white, with large wings at his shoulders, alight from a hackney-coach, and go up to the widow's apartment. The Commissary immediately ordered twelve of the foot guet (the guards of Paris) to post themselves on the stairs, while he himself knocked at the door, and desired admittance. The old lady replied, that she had company, and could speak to no one. But the Commissary answered, that he must come in: for that he was St. Peter, and had come to ask St. Paul and the Angel, how they came out of heaven without his knowledge. The divine visitors were astonished at this, not expecting any more Saints to join them: but the lady, overjoyed at having so great an apostle with her, ran eagerly to the door; when the Commissary, her brother, and the guet, rushing in, presented their musquets, and seized her guests, whom they immediately carried to the Chatelot.
On searching the criminals, two cords, a razor, and a pistol, were found in St. Paul's pocket; and a gag in that of the feigned angel. Three days after, their trial came on: when, in their defence, they pleaded, that the one was a soldier of the French foot-guards, and the other a barber's apprentice; and that they had no other evil design, but to procure a good supper for themselves at the expence of the widow's folly; that, it being carnival time, they had borrowed the above dresses; that the soldier had found the two cords, and put them into his pocket; the razor was what he used to shave himself with; and the pistol was to defend himself from any insults so strange a habit might expose him to, in going home. The barber's apprentice said, his design also was only diversion; and that, as his master was a tooth-drawer, the gag was what they sometimes used in their business. These excuses, frivolous as they were, were of some avail to them; and, as they had not manifested any evil design by an overt act, they were acquitted.
But the Counsellor, who had foreseen what would happen, through the insufficiency of evidence, had provided another stroke for them. No sooner were they discharged from the civil power, but the Apparitor of the Archbishop of Paris seized them, and conveyed them to the Ecclesiastical Prison; and, in three days more, they were tried and convicted of a scandalous profanation, by assuming to themselves the names, characters, and appearances, of an holy apostle and a blessed angel, with an intent to deceive a pious and well-meaning woman, and to the scandal of religion. On this they were condemned to be publicly whipped, burnt on the shoulder by a hot iron, with the letters G.A.L. and sent to the galleys for fourteen years.
The sentence was executed on them the next day, on a scaffold in the Place de Greve, amidst an innumerable crowd of spectators: many of whom condemned the superstition of the lady, when perhaps they would have shewn the same on a like occasion; since, it may be supposed, that if many of their stories of apparitions, of saints, and angels, had been judiciously examined, they would have been found, like the above, to be either a gross fraud, or the dreams of an over-heated, enthusiastic imagination.
I shall make no reflections on the above fact; but leave it to the impartial consideration of the reader.
In September 1764, the following extraordinary incident happened in the family of a clergyman then living in Bartholomew Close.
The gentleman and his wife returning home about eleven o'clock from a friend's house, where they had been to spend the evening, desired the maid to get them warm water to mix with some wine. There being no fire in the parlour, they went into the kitchen; and while the water was heating, the gentleman ordered the maid to get a pan of coals, and warm the bed. The servant had not long been gone up stairs, when the gentleman and his wife heard an uncommon noise over their heads, like persons walking without shoes: and, presently after, a woman enters the kitchen, without any other clothes on than her shift and cap. Their astonishment at such a sight so greatly frightened them, that they had neither of them power to speak a word: and while they were thus absorbed in amazement, another woman entered the room in like manner. Just at this time the maid came down from warming the bed; and, though greatly surprised at so unexpected an appearance, had the courage to ask them who they were? and what they wanted? To which they replied, that they were servants at their next-door neighbour's, and, being awakened out of their sleep by their master's calling out, Fire and thieves! ran up stairs, and entering the garret window, came down, to preserve themselves from danger, and procure assistance. Upon this, inquiry being made, the gentleman's daughter at the adjoining house was found in violent fits, which occasioned his calling the maids hastily to her assistance; and this caused an alarm that had nearly proved fatal to the clergyman's wife, who was, at that time, far gone with child.
FATAL EFFECTS OF JEALOUSY.
An officer of rank in the service of the late King of Prussia, having lost an amiable wife whom he tenderly loved, became quite inconsolable. Deeply wounded with his affliction, his mind was so absorbed in melancholy, that the transient pleasures of life were no longer a delight to him; he retired from the court and the field, and at once secluded himself from all society.
Among the numerous friends who lamented his excessive sorrow, his Monarch was not the least, who endeavoured to soothe his distracted mind with sympathetic tenderness. Indeed, his Majesty considered him not only an agreeable companion, but a valuable friend; and was so much interested in his behalf, that he was determined, if possible, to divert his immoderate grief. But neither the promises of promotion, or the threats of disgrace, could draw him from his retirement. At length, after many zealous efforts had proved ineffectual, a plan was suggested by the King himself, which promised success. His Majesty resolved to give a masquerade, to which, by inviting Lindorf (for that was the officer's name), an opportunity might be again taken to entice him within that circle of gaiety, of which he was once the admiration. The invitation being accompanied with an affectionate and earnest solicitation from the King, Lindorf could not refuse accepting the offer; and, on the evening appointed, he was once more seen in the rooms of splendour and festivity. On his entrance he met the King, who, after greeting him with great kindness, began to rally him upon his late weakness. Lindorf thanked his Majesty for the honour he did him, and, after a short reply, they for some time walked up and down the saloon together; when at length it was agreed to part, that each might amuse himself according to his own liking, with the different characters exhibited that evening. But the King's intention was solely to watch the movements of Lindorf; for with heartfelt regret he beheld, as they parted, the fixed melancholy that still brooded on his countenance: and, when he beheld him pass, with downcast eyes, the saloon, where the dance and music reigned with such irresistible sway, all hope of reclaiming the unhappy widower disappeared. For some time he was witness of his melancholy deportment, and was much affected to find that, where every face beamed a smile, the countenance of Lindorf alone was sad and dejected. The King, despairing of his project being successful, was about to quit the rooms, when he beheld Lindorf suddenly stop and speak to a lady in a black domino. Rejoiced at this circumstance, hope again revived, and he stayed his departure, to watch the event.
Lindorf, when he quitted the King, continued to walk up and down the rooms, nothing attracting his attention but the lady in the black domino, who, wherever he turned, always appeared before him. At first he imagined the character intended merely to amuse him, and that her strange deportment was instigated by his friends; but the unusual solemnity attending her appearance, after he had in vain desired her to desist, struck him with astonishment. He suddenly stopped, and demanded who she was? "I dare not tell you," answered the domino, in a deep and plaintive tone of voice. Lindorf startled—his blood ran cold; it was exactly the voice of his deceased wife. "Who are you? for heaven's sake, tell me, or I die!" exclaimed Lindorf. "You will be more wretched than you are, if I tell you," replied the mysterious unknown, in accents that doubly excited his curiosity. "Tell me," said he, "I conjure you; for I cannot be more wretched than I now am. Tell me all, and do not leave me in this state of inquietude." "Know then," answered the domino, "I am your wife." Lindorf started—every nerve was wrung with anguish. "Impossible," said he in a fright, "it cannot be; yet the voice appears the same." Here his tongue faltering, he ceased to speak. When he had somewhat recovered his recollection, he ejaculated, "In the name of God, do tell me who you are? Is it a trick, or do I dream?" "Neither," replied the unknown; and continued, in the same tone of voice, to describe several particulars relative to his family, and in what manner many things were placed in the drawers belonging to his deceased wife, which none but himself and the departed knew of. At length he was convinced the figure before him must be the apparition of his wife; and, in the voice of anguish and despair, requested she would unmask and let him see her face. That the figure refused to do, saying, that would be a sight he could not bear. "I can bear any thing," he replied, "but the pain your denial creates. I entreat you, let me see your face; do not refuse me!" Again she denied him; till at last, by repeated entreaties, and his promises not to be alarmed, she consented to unmask, and desired him to follow her into an anti-room, solemnly charging him not to give way to his feelings. They then proceeded to the adjoining room.
The King, who was an eye-witness of the deep conversation they were engaged in, beheld, with rapture, their entrance into the anti-chamber, and saw the door closed. "He is certainly restored," said the Monarch to his confidential attendant; "Lindorf is most assuredly saved; he has made an appointment with some pretty woman, and has just retired to enjoy a private conversation. In her endearments he will, I hope, forget his sorrows. So we may now partake of the festivities of the evening." Saying which, he immediately joined the motley group with great cheerfulness.
Lindorf felt his blood chill, as the door of the anti-chamber closed; but, the warmth of affection returning, he no sooner entered, than he claimed the dreadful promise. Again, in the most solemn manner, she advised him not to urge that which might tend to his misery, as she was certain he had not sufficient fortitude to endure a sight of her. With horror he heard the remonstrance; and the solemnity of her deportment only inspired his eager curiosity the more. At length, after many strict injunctions, she lifted up the mask; when the astonished Lindorf beheld the most horrid spectacle of a skeleton head. "Oh, God!" he exclaimed, and, groaning, fell senseless on the floor. In vain the mysterious domino attempted to recover him. Sorrow had for a long time preyed upon his existence, and terror had now for ever quieted the unhappy Lindorf. He breathed no more; he was a lifeless corpse. Instantly the domino quitted the room, and retired from the masquerade.
The King had just returned to his post of observation, and saw the domino depart. In vain he waited for Lindorf to follow; an hour expired, and no Lindorf appeared. This raised the curiosity of the Monarch. The door was left partly open, and he resolved to enter; when, to his great surprise and sorrow, he beheld Lindorf stretched on the floor, a corpse. He instantly alarmed the company; but the mystery of his death in vain they attempted to develope. No marks of violence appeared on his body, which was the more astonishing; and, to add to the mystery, the masqued lady was not to be found in any of the rooms. Messengers were then dispatched, and advertisements distributed, all over the city of Berlin, offering large rewards for her apprehension; but no further information could be gained, than that deposed by two chairmen, who affirmed, they brought the domino to the rooms, which from their account only added to the mystery.
Their declaration was as follows—"Having received a letter, enjoining secrecy, and desiring them to attend in the dusk of the evening, at a certain church porch, to carry a lady to the masquerade; they, thinking it was some person who intended to play the character of a hobgoblin, or sprite, did not hesitate, and made no farther inquiry, but proceeded, at the hour appointed, to the place mentioned; where they found a person waiting in a black domino, just as the advertisement described. On their arrival, without speaking a word, the domino placed the money for hire in their hands, and instantly entered the chair, which they immediately conveyed to the masquerade. On their arrival, without uttering a word, she darted from them into the crowd, and they saw no more of her until twelve o'clock, when, on passing the door, they discovered the domino again seated in the chair. They were much surprised at such strange conduct; but, without reflecting on the event, they conveyed her back again, as was agreed, to the same church porch, when they received a further gratuity, and departed." Such was the deposition of the two chairmen, at once mysterious and incomprehensible. This intelligence still more astonished the King, who in vain used every method to make further discovery in this extraordinary and unhappy affair.
Several years elapsed, without any thing occurring that could lead to a developement of this dreadful catastrophe. All search after the lady was now given up, and nothing but the remembrance of the unhappy affair remained. At length the hour arrived, when this dreadful mystery was explained, which displayed one of the most diabolical and desperate transactions ever known. The particulars are as follow.
A lady, then at the point of death, requested to see some confidential friend of the King's; which request was immediately complied with: to whom she made the following confession. In accents scarcely audible, she told them, she was the person who appeared in the black domino, in so mysterious a manner, to Lindorf, and which unhappily caused his death. That revenge for neglected love instigated her to play the part she did; but that she had no idea the consequence would have been so fatal: her intention being merely to assume the appearance of his deceased wife, in order that she might upbraid him, and gratify her revenge for having broke his vow in marrying her sister instead of herself; and also that she might effectually persuade him to desist from his melancholy intentions of remaining a widower, and prevail on him to marry her—for although he refused her request personally, yet she imagined the scheme must be successful, when played off under the appearance of a spirit of his deceased wife; and, to deceive his imagination, she had endeavoured to personify her; for which purpose she had procured the head of a skeleton, and assumed that character which had proved the death of the man she so ardently loved, and the source of endless misery to herself. She then related the conversation that had passed between them on that fatal evening, and fully described the whole particulars of that mysterious affair. She likewise acknowledged she endeavoured to imitate the voice of his deceased wife; and declared her intention for having the chair brought to the church porch was to render the proceeding the more mysterious and incomprehensible in case of a scrutiny. On concluding this melancholy tale, she fetched a deep sigh, and instantly expired.
Many, who were personally acquainted with Mr. Junker, have frequently heard him relate the following anecdote.
Being Professor of Anatomy, he once procured, for dissection, the bodies of two criminals who had been hanged. The key of the dissecting room not being immediately at hand, when they were carried home to him, he ordered them to be laid down in a closet which opened into his own apartment. The evening came; and Junker, according to custom, proceeded to resume his literary labour before he retired to rest. It was now near midnight, and all his family were fast asleep, when he heard a rumbling noise in his closet. Thinking that, by some mistake, the cat had been shut up with the dead bodies, he arose, and, taking the candle, went to see what had happened. But what must have been his astonishment, or rather his panic, on perceiving that the sack which contained the two bodies was rent through the middle. He approached, and found that one of them was gone.
The doors and windows were well secured, and he thought it impossible the bodies could have been stolen. He tremblingly looked round the closet, and observed the dead man seated in a corner.
Junker stood for a moment motionless: the dead man seemed to look towards him; he moved both to the right and left, but the dead man still kept his eyes upon him.
The Professor then retired, step by step, with his eyes still fixed upon the object of his alarm, and holding the candle in his hand, until he reached the door. The dead man instantly started up, and followed him. A figure of so hideous an appearance, naked, and in motion—the lateness of the hour—the deep silence which prevailed—every thing concurred to overwhelm him with confusion. He let fall the only candle which he had burning, and all was darkness. He made his escape to his bed-chamber, and threw himself on the bed: thither, however, he was pursued; and he soon felt the dead man embracing his legs, and loudly sobbing. Repeated cries of "Leave me! leave me!" released Junker from the grasp of the dead man; who now exclaimed, "Ah! good executioner! good executioner! have mercy upon me."