When you read books about psychical research written in the late 1800's and early 1900's, much of the work involved collecting experiences and witness testimony as a way to try and understand what people were experiencing and why. The writer would then often look for similarities and theorise as to how it is so many people had experiences that in essence had a lot of similarities. It is these theories that shaped the way many people think about ghosts over 100 years later. If you are interested in reading some of these books for yourself, I have an extension link tree set up which gives you access to books listed as a part of the public domain. Some of the works are no longer in print with second-hand copies costing hundreds of dollars, however thanks to public domain, you can read these works online for free and in a lot of cases download a PDF of the scanned book for your collection.
For links and more, head to the LLIFS Resource Directory.
Here is a not-so-well-known story that appeared in the book:
The following has been copied exactly as it appears in the book:
The following interesting communication has been handed to me by a young lady, who is as intelligent as she is charming.
Her hereditary acumen precludes altogether the possibility of any self-deceit in regard to her own personal experiences as narrated by herself.
"What I am going to relate happened to myself while staying with some North-country cousins, last July, at their house in shire. 1 had spent a few days there in the summer of the previous year, but without then hearing or seeing anything out
of the common. On my second visit, arriving early in the afternoon, I went out boating with some of the family, spent a
very jolly evening, and finally went to bed a little tired, perhaps, with the day's work, but not the least nervous. I slept soundly until between three and four, just when the day was beginning to break. I had been awake for a short time when suddenly the door of my bedroom opened and shut again rather quickly. I fancied it might be one of the servants, andcalled out, 'Come in !' After a short time the door opened again, but no one came in at least, no one that I could see. Almost at the same time that the door opened for the second time, I was a little startled by the rustling of some curtains be- longing to a hanging wardrobe, which stood by the side of the bed ; the rustling continued, and I was seized with a most un- comfortable feeling, not exactly of fright, but a strange, unearthly sensation that I was not alone. I had had that feeling for some minutes, when I saw at the foot of the bed a child about seven or nine years old. The child seemed as if it were on the bed, and came gliding towards me as I lay. It was the figure of a little girl in her night-dress a little girl with dark hair and a very white face. I tried to speak to her, but could not. She came slowly on up to the top of the bed, and then I saw her face clearly. She seemed in great trouble; her hands were clasped and her eyes were turned up with a look of entreaty, an almost agonised look. Then slowly unclasping her hands, she touched me on the shoulder. The hand felt icy cold, and while I strove to speak she was gone. I felt more frightened after the child was gone than before, and began to be very anxious for the time when the servant would make her appearance. Whether I slept again or not I hardly know. But by the time the servant did come I had almost persuaded myself that the whole affair was nothing but a very vivid nightmare. However, when I came down to breakfast, there were many remarks made about my not looking well it was observed that I was pale. In answer I told my cousins that I had had a most vivid night- mare, and remarked that if I was a believer in ghosts I should imagine I had seen one. Nothing more was said at the time upon this subject, except that my host, who was a doctor, observed that I had better not sleep in the room again, at any
rate not alone. "So the following night one of my cousins slept in the same room with me. Neither of us saw or heard anything out of the way during that night or the early morning. That being the case, I persuaded myself that what I had seen had been only imagination, and, much against everybody's expressed wish, I insisted the next night in sleeping in the room again, and alone. Accordingly, having retired again to the same room, I was kneeling down at the bedside to say my prayers, when exactly the same dread as before came over me. The curtains of the wardrobe swayed about, and I had the same sensation as previously, that I was not alone. I felt too frightened to stir, when, luckily for me, one of my cousins came in for something
she had left. On looking at me she exclaimed, 'Have you seen anything?' I said, ' No,' but told her how I felt, and without much persuasion being necessary, I left the room with her, and never returned to it. When my hostess learnt what had happened (as she did immediately) she told me I must not sleep in that room again, as the nightmare had made such an impression on me ; I should imagine (she said) all sorts of things and make myself quite ill. I went to another room, and during the rest of my visit (a week), I was not troubled by any reappearance of the little girl. "On leaving, my cousin, the eldest daughter of the doctor, went with me to the house of an uncle of mine in the same county. We stayed there for about a fortnight, and during that time the ' little girl' was alluded to only as my 'nightmare.' "In this I afterwards found there was a little reticence, for, just before leaving my uncle's, my cousin said to me, 'I must tell you something I have been longing to tell you ever since I left home. But my father desired me not to tell you, as, not being very strong, you might be too frightened. Your night- mare was not a nightmare at all, but the apparition of a little girl/ She then went on to tell me that this ' little girl' had been seen three times before, by three different members of the family, but as this was some nine or ten years since, they had almost ceased to think anything about it until I related myexperiences on the morning after the first night of my second visit."
To Mr. More Adey, of Wotton-under-Edge, at the time an Oxford undergraduate, and Member of the Oxford Phasmatological Society, we owe the account which follows of the former appearances of theghost. The narrative, which was written by Mrs.H., the aunt of Miss J. A. A., and her two daughters,the cousins referred to, appears to have been sent to Mr. More Adey in the latter part of 1883. Dr. H the actual percipient on the first occasion, had seen his wife's account and admits its correctness.
From Mrs. H.
"Some years ago, perhaps about twenty or more [later Mrs. H. fixes the date as between January, 1863, and 1865], we happened to be having one of our usual small gatherings for a musical evening, when the circumstance happened which I am going to relate. My husband had been detained visiting patients until rather late, returning home about 9 o'clock. He was running upstairs in his usual quick way, three or four steps at a time, to go to his dressing-room and dress for the evening, when, on turning the first flight of stairs, he was rather startled to see on the landing (a few steps higher) a little child who ran before him into my room. My little boy B., about two or three years of age, was at that time sleeping in a small child's bed at my bedside. Mr. H. followed and spoke, calling the boy by name, but he gave no answer. The gas was burning on the landing outside my room, but there was no light inside. He felt about and on the bed, but instead of finding the child stand- ing or sitting on the bed, as he supposed, he found him comfortably tucked in and fast asleep. A cold creepy feeling came over him, for there had not possibly been time for anyone to get into the bed, which was just behind the door. He lighted a candle, searched the room, and also saw that the boy was un- mistakably fast asleep. He expected to find one of the other children, as the figure appeared to be taller than that of the boy. When the company had gone my husband told me of the occurrence. I felt quite sure that the mystery could be solved , and that we should find it had been one of the children, though he assured me there could be no one in the room, as he had made a thorough search. I still thought he might be mistaken, and fancied that it had been G. (who was a year or two older than B.), who had escaped out of the night nursery, which was near ; that she had been listening to the music, when she heard someone coming, and had run into my room to hide ; but on inquiring closely the next morning, I found she had never left her bed. We did not think much more about it, though there was still a feeling of mystery, and we never named it to anyone. Some years afterwards it was brought to our minds by two of my daughters having seen a child very early in the morning at the same time, but in different rooms. One of them only saw its face. Then, after a lapse of years, Miss A. , while staying with us, saw the apparition mentioned in her ghost story. Whether the appearance has been a ghost or merely an optical delusion I cannot say, but each of those who have seen it had never heard the slightest allusion to anything of the kind before."
From Miss G. H.
"I was up early one winter's morning just as dawn was breaking, and there was barely light enough for me to see my way
about the house ; I was feeling tired and somewhat sleepy, but not in the slightest degree nervous. "On passing the door of a room at the head of the staircase, in which my youngest sister slept, I perceived that it was open. Taking hold of the handle, I was about to shut it (the door opened inwards), when I was startled by the figure of a child, standing in a corner formed by a wardrobe which was placed against the wall about a foot and a-half from the doorway. Thinking it was my sister I exclaimed, Oh, M., you shouldn't startle me so ! and shut the door ; but in the same instant, before I had time to quit my hold of the handle, I opened it again, feeling sure that it could not be my sister; and, sure enough, she was fast asleep in bed so far from the door that it would not have been possible for her to have crossed from the door to her bedside in the short space of time when I was closing the door. In the corner where the child had been there was nothing, and I felt that I must have seen a ghost, for I was suddenly seized with a feeling of horror which could not have been caused by anything imaginary. The child had a dark complexion, hair and eyes, and a thin oval face; it was not white as when seen by Miss A., but it gave me a mournful look as if full of trouble. Had it been a living child, I should have imagined it to be one who enjoyed none of the thoughtlessness and carelessness of childhood, but whose young life, on the contrary, was filled with premature cares. Its age might be about nine or ten ; its dress I could not distinguish, as I only seemed to see its head and face j the expression struck me most; so vividly did I see it that if I were able to draw I could, I believe, give an accurate representation of it, even now after about five years. " On telling my eldest sister A. what I had seen she said, 'How very curious! I thought I saw something, too, this morning.'"I must tell you that to reach her bedroom it was necessary to pass through mine ; on the morning in question as she looked into my room she saw a figure standing by a small table. Being short-sighted she thought for a moment that it was I, though it appeared to be smaller ; and suddenly seized with a nervous fear, most unusual with her, she called out,' Oh ! G., wait for me.' She turned for an instant to get something out of her room, and when she looked again there was nothing to be seen. The door from my room into the passage was shut. I was in another part of the house at the time, and we were the only two members of the family out of bed."
From Mrs. A. (formerly Miss H.)
"I believe it was between five and six in the morning mysister and self thought we would get up early to read. We had
our bedrooms close together, with the door in the middle joining the rooms always open. " My sister had just left her room about three minutes ; when I looked towards her room, I saw a little figure in white standing near a table. I did not see its face, but I attribute that to my being so short-sighted. Also I was so suddenly overcome with nervousness that I ran from the room. " During the morning I told my sister what I had seen ; then she gave me her account."*
It seems clear from her account that Miss J. A. A. at the time when she saw the ghost had not heard of any previous apparition in the house. Miss H. andher sister appear to have been equally ignorant, for apart from Mrs. H.'s express statement to that effect, it is not at all likely that she or Dr. H. would have told the children that a ghost had been seen in the house.
Mrs. H., writing in 1883, adds, as regards the identification of the figure :
"If the apparition should be a ghost, I have thought that it must be the spirit of a little girl who died in part of our house
before it was added to it. When we first carne to this house, about thirty years ago, it was divided into two, the smaller part being inhabited by a doctor. His wife died soon after we came, and a few years afterwards his little girl. I used to see her when she was ill, and I last saw her the day before she died. She had fine dark eyes, black hair, oval face, and a pale
olive complexion. This description I find agrees exactly with those who have seen its face. None of them had ever heard me mention the child ; indeed, I had quite forgotten about her until hearing of these ghost stories. I said it must be J. M.,
who died here. Soon after her death her father went abroad. As far as I remember the child was about eight or nine years
The above are a few samples of the testimony which is held by some in the present day to warrant belief in "ghosts."
Podmore points out in the following chapters how significant stories and experiences like the above are. The Society for Psychical Research had been receiving letters of similar experiences for around 30 years prior to this book being written. Podmore takes particular interest in the fact that such stories are submitted by well-educated members of society (such as a Doctor in the above case) and were submitted soberly meaning the people experiencing the activity were not under the influence of alcohol or other substances.
Whether it was 100 years ago or in the present day, the one thing that has not changed is the experiences that people have and the fact that often there is no way to actually prove what it was the person was experiencing. What cannot be denied is that the person DID in fact experience it. It is the actual cause that is up for debate. Whether it was caused by a telepathic hallucinating, a visit from a ghost or a simple misunderstanding from our brains the fact remains that this is what the person experienced. In modern-day paranormal investigation, we seem to be focusing our time on seeking experiences for ourselves. Maybe we need to sit back and look at the experiences themselves to gain further insight.
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