Of a meaner origin and occupation was the Scottish Brownie—already mentioned, as somewhat resembling Robin Goodfellow in the frolicsome days of Old England. This spirit was easily banished, or, as it was styled, hired away, by the offer of clothes or food ; but many of the simple inhabitants could little see the prudence of parting with such a useful domestic drudge, who served faithfully, without fee or reward, food or raiment. Neither was it at all times safe to reject Brownie's assistance. Thus, we are informed by Brand, that a young man in the Orkneys " used to brew, and sometimes read upon his Bible ; to whom an old woman said, that Brownie was displeased with that book he read upon, which, if he continued to do, they would get no more service of Brownie ; but he being better instructed from that book, which was Brownie's eyesore, and the object of his wrath, when he brewed, would not suffer any sacrifice to be given to Brownie ; whereupon the first and second brewings were spoilt, and for no use; for though the wort wrought well, yet in a little time it left off working, and grew cold ; but of the third broust, or brewing, he had ale very good, though he would not give any sacrifice to Brownie, with whom afterwards they were no more troubled." Another story of the same kind is told of a lady in Uist, who refused, on religious grounds, the usual sacrifice to this domestic spirit. The first and second brewings failed, but the third succeeded ; and thus, when Brownie lost the perquisite to which he had been so long accustomed, he abandoned the inhospitable house, where his services had so long been faithfully rendered. The last place in the south of Scotland supposed to have been honoured, or benefited, by the residence of a Brownie, was Bods-beck, in Moffatdale, which has been the subject of an entertaining tale by Mr. James Hogg, the self-instructed genius of Ettrick Forest.
These particular superstitions, however, are too limited, and too much obliterated from recollection, to call for special discussion. The general faith in fairies has already undergone our consideration ; but something remains to be said upon another species of superstition, so general, that it may be called proper to mankind in every climate ; so deeply rooted also in human belief, that it is found to survive in states of society during which all other fictions of the same order are entirely dismissed from influence. Mr. Crabbe, with his usual felicity, has called the belief in ghosts " the last lingering fiction of the brain."
Nothing appears more simple at the first view of the subject, than that human memory should recall and bring back to the eye of the imagination, in perfect similitude, even the very form and features of a person with whom we have been long conversant, or which have been imprinted in our minds with indelible strength, by some striking circumstances touching our meeting in life. The son does not easily forget the aspect of an affectionate father; and, for reasons opposite, but equally powerful, the countenance of a murdered person is engraved upon the recollection of his slayer. A thousand additional circumstances, far too obvious to require recapitulation, render the supposed apparition of the dead the most ordinary spectral phenomenon which is ever believed to occur among the living. All that we have formerly said respecting supernatural appearances in general, applies with peculiar force to the belief of ghosts ; for whether the cause of delusion exists in an excited imagination or a disordered organic system, it is in this way that it commonly exhibits itself. Hence Lucretius himself, the most absolute of sceptics, considers the existence of ghosts, and their frequent apparition, as facts so undeniable, that he endeavours to account for them at the expense of assenting to a class of phenomena very irreconcilable to his general system. As he will not allow of the existence of the human soul, and at the same time cannot venture to question the phenomena supposed to haunt the repositories of the dead, he is obliged to adopt the belief that the body consists of several coats like those of an onion, and that the outmost and thinnest, being detached by death, continues to wander near the place of sepulture, in the exact resemblance of the person while alive.
We have said there are many ghost stories which we do not feel at liberty to challenge as impostures, because we are confident that those who relate them on their own authority actually believe what they assert, and may have good reason for doing so, though there is no real phantom after all. We are far, therefore, from averring that such tales are necessarily false. It is easy to suppose the visionary has been imposed upon by a lively dream, a waking reverie, the excitation of a powerful imagination, or the misrepresentation of a diseased organ of sight; and in one or other of these causes, to say nothing of a system of deception which may in many instances be probable, we apprehend a solution will be found for all cases of what are called real ghost stories.
In truth, the evidence with respect to such apparitions is very seldom accurately or distinctly questioned. A supernatural tale is, in most cases, received as an agreeable mode of amusing society, and he would be rather accounted a sturdy moralist than an entertaining companion, who should employ himself in assailing its credibility. It would indeed be a solecism in manners, something like that of impeaching the genuine value of the antiquities exhibited by a good-natured collector, for the gratification of his guests. This difficulty will appear greater, should a company have the rare good fortune to meet the person who himself witnessed the wonders which he tells ; a well-bred or prudent man will, under such circumstances, abstain from using the rules of cross-examination practised in a court of justice ; and if in any case he presumes to do so, he is in danger of receiving answers, even from the most candid and honourable persons, which are rather fitted to support the credit of the story which they stand committed to maintain, than to the pure service of unadorned truth. The narrator is asked, for example, some unimportant question with respect to the apparition; he answers it on the hasty suggestion of his own imagina tion, tinged as it is with belief of the general fact, and by doing so, often gives a feature of minute evidence which was before wanting, and this with perfect unconsciousness on his own part. It is a rare occurrence, indeed, to find an opportunity of dealing with an actual ghost-seer; such instances, however, I have certainly myself met with, and that in the case of able, wise, candid, and resolute persons, of whose veracity I had every reason to be confident. But in such instances, shades of mental aberration have afterwards occurred, which sufficiently accounted for the supposed apparitions, and will incline me always to feel alarmed in behalf of the continued health of a friend, who should conceive himself to have witnessed such a visitation.