Another such story, in which the name of a lady of condition is made use of as having seen an apparition in a country-seat in France, is so far better borne out than those I have mentioned, that I have seen a narrative of the circumstances, attested by the party principally concerned. That the house was disturbed, seems to be certain, but the circumstances (though very remarkable) did not, in my mind, by any means exclude the probability that the disturbance and appearances were occasioned by the dexterous management of some mischievously-disposed persons.
The remarkable circumstance of Thomas, the second Lord Lyttelton, prophesying his own death within a few minutes, upon the information of an apparition, has been always quoted as a true story. But of late it has been said and published, that the unfortunate nobleman had previously determined to take poison, and of course had it in his own power to ascertain the execution of the prediction. It was no doubt singular that a man, who meditated his exit from the world, should have chosen to play such a trick on his friends. But it is still more credible that a whimsical man should do so wild a thing, than that a messenger should be sent from the dead, to tell a libertine at what precise hour he should expire.*
To this list, other stories of the same class might be added. But it is sufficient to show that such stories as these, having gained a certain degree of currency in the world, and bearing creditable names on their front, walk through society unchallenged, like bills through a bank when they bear respectable indorsations, although, it may be, the signatures are forged after all. There is, indeed, an unwillingness very closely to examine such subjects ; for the secret fund of superstition in every man's bosom is gratified by believing them to be true, or at least induces him to abstain from challenging them as false. And no doubt it must happen that the transpiring of incidents, in which men have actually seen, or conceived that they saw, apparitions which were invisible to others, contributes to the increase of such stories,—which do accordingly sometimes meet us in a shape of veracity difficult to question.
The following story was narrated to me by my friend Mr. William Clerk, chief clerk to the Jury Court,
Edinburgh, when he first learned it, now nearly thirty years ago, from a passenger in the mail-coach. With Mr. Clerk's consent, I gave the story at that time to poor Mat Lewis, who published it with a ghost-ballad which he adjusted on the same theme. From the minuteness of the original detail, however, the narrative is better calculated for prose than verse ; and more especially, as the friend to whom it was originally-communicated, is one of the most accurate, intelligent, and acute persons I have known in the course of my life, I am willing to preserve the precise story in this place.
* Since the first edition of this little work appeared, I received the following communication from a friend, on whom I can perfectly depend:—" Lord Lyttelton's ghost story will not s'and a scrutiny. I heard Lord Fortescue once say, that he was in the house with him, [Lord Lyttelton,!, at the time of the supposed visitation, and he mentioned the following circumstances as the only foundation for the extraordinary superstructure at which the world has wondered:—A woman of the party had one day lost a favourite bird, and all the men tried to recover it for her. Soon after, on assembling at breakfast, Lord Lyttelton complained of having passed a very bad night, and having being worried in his dreams, by a repetition of the chase of the lady's bird. His death followed, as stated in the story. And if this was really all the foundation for so defined and distinct a narrative, it shows strongly on what slender grounds one of the most received tales of the kind may be in reality founded."
It was about the eventful year 1800, when the Emperor Paul laid his ill-judged embargo on British trade, that my friend Mr. William Clerk, on a journey to London, found himself in company, in a mail-coach, with a seafaring man of middle age and respectable appearance, who announced himself as master of a vessel in the Baltic trade, and a sufferer by the embargo. In the course of the desultory conversation which takes place on such occasions, the seaman observed, in compliance with a common superstition, " I wish we may have good luck on our journey—there is a magpie."— " And why should that be unlucky ?" said my friend. " I cannot tell you that," replied the sailor ; " but all the world agrees that one magpie bodes bad luck— two are not so bad, but three are the devil. I never saw three magpies but twice, and once I had near lost my vessel, and the second I fell from my horse, and was hurt." This conversation led Mr. Clerk to observe, that he supposed he believed also in ghosts, since he credited such auguries. " And if I do," said the sailor, " I may have my own reasons for doing so ;" and he spoke this in a deep and serious manner, implying that he felt deeply what he was saying. On being further urged, he confessed that, if he could believe his own eyes, there was one ghost at least which he had seen repeatedly. He then told his story as I now relate it.
Our mariner had, in his youth, gone mate of a slave vessel from Liverpool, of which town he seemed to be a native. The captain of the vessel was a man of a variable temper, sometimes kind and courteous to his men, but subject to fits of humour, dislike, and passion, during which he was very violent, tyrannical, and cruel. He took a particular dislike at one sailor aboard, an elderly man, called Bill Jones, or some such name. He seldom spoke to this person without threats and abuse, which the old man, with the licence which sailors take in merchant vessels, was very apt to return. On one occasion, Bill Jones appeared slow in getting out on the yard to hand a sail. The captain, according to custom, abused the seaman as a lubberly rascal, who got fat by leaving his duty to other people. The man made a saucy answer, almost amounting to mutiny, on which, in a towering passion, the captain ran down to his cabin, and returned with a blunderbuss loaded with slugs, with which he took a deliberate aim at the supposed mutineer, fired, and mortally wounded him. The man was handed down from the yard, and stretched on the deck, evidently dying. He fixed his eyes on the captain, and said, "Sir, you have done for me, but I ivill never leave you !" The captain, in return, swore at him for a fat lubber, and said he would have him thrown into the slave-kettle, where they made food for the negroes, and see how much fat he had got. The man died; his body was actually thrown into the slave-kettle, and the narrator observed, with a naivete which confirmed the extent of his own belief in the truth of what he told, "There was not much fat about him after all."