Another species of deception affecting the credit of such supernatural communications, arises from the dexterity and skill of the authors who have made it their business to present such stories in the shape most likely to attract belief. Defoe—whose power in rendering credible that which was in itself very much the reverse was so peculiarly distinguished—has not failed to show his superiority in this species of composition. A bookseller of his acquaintance had, in the trade phrase, rather overprinted an edition of Drelincourt on Death, and complained to Defoe of the loss which was likely to ensue. The experienced bookmaker, with the purpose of recommending the edition, advised his friend to prefix the celebrated narrative of Mrs. Veal's ghost, which he wrote for the occasion, with such an air of truth that, although in fact it does not afford a single tittle of evidence properly so called, it nevertheless was swallowed so eagerly by the people, that Drelincourt's work on death, which the supposed spirit recommended to the perusal of her friend Mrs. Bargrave, instead of sleeping on the editor's shelf, moved off by thousands at once : the story, incredible in itself, and unsupported as it was by evidence or enquiry, was received as true, merely from the cunning of the narrator, and the addition of a number of adventitious circumstances, which no man alive could have conceived as having occurred to the mind of a person composing a fiction.
It did not require the talents of Defoe, though is that species of composition he must stand unrivalled, to fix the public attention on a ghost story. John Dunton, a man of scribbling celebrity at the time, sueceeded to a great degree in imposing upon the public a tale which he calls the Apparition Evidence. The beginning of it at least, for it is of great length, has something in it a little new. At Mynehead, in Somersetshire, lived an ancient gentlewoman, named Mrs. Leckie, whose only son and daughter resided in family with her. The son traded to Ireland, and was supposed to be worth eight or ten thousand pounds. They had a child about five or six years old. This family was generally respected in Mynehead; and especially Mrs. Leckie, the old lady, was so pleasant in society that her friends used to say to her, and to each other, that it was a thousand pities such an excellent, good-humoured gentlewoman must, from her age, be soon lost to her friends. To which Mrs. Leckie often made the somewhat startling reply : " For as much as you now seem to like me, I am afraid you will but little care to see or speak with me after my death, though I believe you may have that satisfaction." Die, however, she did ; and, after her funeral, was repeatedly seen in her personal likeness, at home and abroad, by night and by noon-day.
One story is told of a doctor of physic walking into the fields, who in his return met with this spectre, whom he at first accosted civilly, and paid her the courtesy of handing her over a stile : observing, however, that she did not move her lips in speaking, or her eyes in looking round, he became suspicious of the condition of his companion, and showed some desire to be rid of her society. Offended at this, the hag at next stile planted herself upon it, and obstructed his passage. He got through at length with some difficulty, and not without a sound kick, and an admonition to pay more attention to the next aged gentlewoman whom he met. " But this," says John Dunton, " was a petty and inconsiderable prank to what she played in her son's house, and elsewhere. She would at noonday appear upon the quay of Mynehead, and cry, ' A boat, a boat, ho ! a boat, a boat, ho!' If any boatmen or seamen were in sight, and did not come, they were sure to be cast away ; and if they did come, 'twas all one, they were cast away. It was equally dangerous to please and displease her. Her son had several ships sailing between Ireland and England : no sooner did they make land, and come in sight of England, but this ghost would appear in the same garb and likeness as when she was alive; and, standing at the mainmast, would blow with a whistle, and though it were never so great a calm, yet immediately there would arise a most dreadful storm, that would break, wreck, and drown the ship and goods, only the seamen would escape with their lives—the devil had no permission from God to take them away. Yet, at this rate, by her frequent apparitions and disturbances she had made a poor merchant of her son, for his fair estate was all buried in the sea, and he that was once worth thousands, was reduced to a very poor and low condition in the world ; for whether the ship were his own, or hired, or he had but goods on board it to the value of twenty shillings, this troublesome ghost would come as before, whistle in a calm at the mainmast at noon-day, when they had descried land, and then ship and goods went all out of hand to wreck ; insomuch that he could at last get no ships wherein to stow his goods, nor any mariner to sail in them ; for, knowing what an uncomfortable, fatal, and losing voyage they should make of it, they did all decline his service. In her son's house she hath her constant haunts by day and night; but whether he did not, or would not own, if he did see her, he always professed he never saw her. Sometimes when in bed with his wife, she would cry out, 1 Husband, look, there's your mother !' And when he would turn to the right side, then was she gone to the left; and when to the left side of the bed, then was she gone to the right: only one evening their only child, a girl of about five or six years old, lying in a truckle-bed under them, cries out, help me, father ! help me, mother, for grandmother will choke me !' and before they could get to their child's assistance, she had murdered it; they finding the poor girl dead, her throat having been pinched by two fingers, which stopped her breath and strangled her. This was the sorest of all their afflictions ; their estate is gone, and now their child is gone also ; you may guess at their grief and great sorrow. One morning after the child's funeral, her husband being abroad, about eleven in the forenoon, Mrs. Leckie the younger goes up into her chamber to dress her head ; and, as she was looking into the glass, she spies her mother-in-law, the old beldam, looking over her shoulder. This cast her into a great horror; but re-collecting her affrighted spirits, and recovering the exercise of her reason, faith, and hope, having cast up a short and silent prayer to God, she turns about, and bespeaks her : ' In the name of God, mother, why do you trouble me ?'—' Peace !' says the spectrum ; * I will do thee no hurt.'—' What will you have of me ?' says the daughter," &c* Dun-ton, the narrator, and probably the contriver of the story, proceeds to inform us, at length, of a commission which the wife of Mr. Leckie receives from the ghost to deliver to Atherton, Bishop of Waterford, a guilty and unfortunate man, who afterwards died by the hands of the executioner ; but that part of the subject is too disagreeable and tedious to enter upon.