Monday, April 4, 2016
Andrew Lang on Ghosts, by William Thomas Stead 1897
Andrew Lang on Ghosts, by William Thomas Stead 1897
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Mr. Andrew Lang's Dreams and Ghosts is the best "boom" the Society fur Psychical Research has ever had. Mr. Lang is as inevitably entertaining as the S. P. R. is inevitably dull, and in selecting the best of their stories, casting aside their pedantry and general tiresomeness, and, in short, translating them out of Myers' nomenclature into English, Mr. Lang has secured hundreds of readers who would never have waded through them under other circumstances. Mr. Lang is a folk-lorist first and a psychical researcher afterwards; so far as belonging to the Society goes he is not a Psychical Researcher at all; and the fact that a story is said to be true has for him a special interest apart from the truth of the story. Even in this respect, however, the S. P. R. owes him a considerable debt, for he has re-established several old classic stories of somewhat doubtful antecedents; such, for example, as that of "The Windham Ghost," "The Tyrone Ghost," "The Dream of the Perceval Murder." "The Villiers Ghost," and "Lord Lyttleton's Ghost." His excellent stories of "Queen Mary's Jewels" and of the "Thumbless Hand," and his views as to the Wesley ghost, we have heard before elsewhere, but we are glad to have them where we can find them at need.
Mr. Lang's individuality does not disappear even under the superincumbent general resemblances of psychic stories. We meet with Queen Mary in the preface and with 1688 politics before we have read the first page; and he rejoices in a gillie who curses William. Duke of Cumberland, with abundant enthusiasm. I know that gillie too; a tight line to him!
It is characteristic, too, that once more, here as elsewhere, Mr. Lang pleads for justice to the ghost. Let us, at least, be as fair as to the evidence for him as against him. "I do believe," he tells us, "with all students of human nature, in hallucinations of one, or of several, or even of all the senses. But as to whether such hallucinations, among the sane, are ever caused by psychical influences from the minds of others, alive or dead, not communicated through the ordinary channels of sense, my mind is in a balance of doubt. It is a question of evidence." One can't say fairer than that.
As an illustration Mr. Lang takes the story now widely familiar (up to a certain point) of the house visited by those alleged to be "On the Trail of a Ghost." This correspondence, he says, "illustrated the copious fallacies which haunt the human intellect. Thus it was maintained by some persons and denied by others that sounds of unknown origin were occasionally heard in a certain house. These, it was suggested, might (if really heard) be caused by slight seismic disturbances. Now many people argue, 'Blunderstone House is not haunted, for I passed a night there and nothing unusual occurred.' Apply this to a house where noises are actually caused by young earthquakes. Would anybody say, 'There are no seismic disturbances near Blunderstone House, for I passed a night there and none occurred?' Why should a noisy ghost (if there is such a thing) or a hallucinatory sound (if there is such a thing) be expected to be more punctual and pertinacious than a seismic disturbance:"
Andrew Lang on Ghosts, by Paul Carus 1897
Mr. Andrew Lang is one of the most interesting of all the authors who have written on the subject of ghosts. While in the main occupying a critical attitude in his well-known book of Dreams and Ghosts, he has aimed rather to entertain than to investigate; but the tone of the remarks he has interpolated among his recitals leaves little doubt as to his real inclinations. His book, he says, "does not pretend to be a convincing, but merely an illustrative, collection of evidence." He adopts the modern theory that every ghost is an hallucination, but that also an hallucination is a perception, to quote Professor James, "as good and true a sensation as if there were a real object there. The object happens not to be there, that is all." As to telepathy, he remarks with strained open-mindedness: "I do believe, with all students of human nature, in hallucinations of one, or of several, or even of all the senses. But as to whether such hallucinations, among the sane, are ever caused by psychical influences from the minds of others, alive or dead, not communicated through the ordinary channels of sense, my mind is in a balance of doubt. It is a question of evidence."
Mr. Lang tells, besides modern stories, many from remote times. "The ancient legends are given, not as evidence, but for three reasons: first, because of their merit as mere stories; next, because several of them are now perhaps for the first time offered with a critical discussion of their historical sources; lastly, because the old legends seem to show how the fancy of periods less critical than ours dealt with such facts as are now reported in a dull undramatic manner." The classical ghost-stories are all here, and even some from the Gaelic and Icelandic, which "have peculiar literary merit as simple dramatic narratives." There is also the famous Wesley ghost, Sir George Villier's spectre, Lord Lyttleton's ghost, the Beresford ghost, etc., etc.
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