by Albany Poyntz
In the winter of 1758, the sacristan of Polliac expired, after a few
hours’ illness, of a fright produced by the sight of a large white rabbit
seated on the grave-stone of a famous poacher recently deceased, as he was
crossing the church-yard at midnight after accompanying the curate to
administer the last sacrament to a dying parishioner. The mind of this
poor fellow, who was a proficient in the ghost stories of the
neighbourhood, was probably deeply impressed by the melancholy scene he
had been witnessing; which, combined with the desperate character and
blasphemous habits of Blaise Rolland, the poacher, induced him to suppose
that the soul of the defunct had undergone transformation, or that Satan
himself was watching over his grave, in the shape of one of the animals
he had so often appropriated to himself.
The rabbit proved in the sequel to be a tame one escaped from a
neighbouring farm. But in the interim, the poor man had fallen a victim to
his panic! A more rational being would have inquired of himself for what
purpose the Almighty could be supposed to suffer the soul of an obscure
poacher to revisit the earth, when we learn from divine writ His refusal
to permit the appearance of Dives to his brethren, as a superfluous
concession. “If they hear not Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be
persuaded, though one rose from the dead!”
Nothing can be more absurd than the functions attributed to ghosts, when
we know that the soul, at the moment of its separation from the body, is
an impalpable, invisible, substance. Yet this spiritual essence, which eye
hath not seen, or ear heard, is supposed to have exercised the power of
dragging chains, undrawing curtains, opening doors, ringing bells,
uttering groans, articulating reproaches; in the face of the Scriptural
Revelation “that the body shall return to the dust, and the spirit unto
God who gave it!”
We find in St. John’s Gospel, that the souls of mankind in the different
mansions of the Almighty, receive after death the reward of deeds done in
the body. Is it likely then that they should have leisure or inclination
for revisiting their dreary mansion of clay?
There is one instinct which we are bound to accord to ghosts; i. e. a
wonderful aptitude for the discovery of cowards! In the ghost-stories of
all countries, it is observable that the first impulse of the person
addressed by a spectre is to take to his heels. With the exception of the
lady of the Beresford family, who is said to have sat and talked theology
with her brother, there is no record of a rational conversation between a
disembodied spirit and those of the flesh; for the pretended apparition of
Mrs. Veale, is now known to have been an ingenious bookseller’s puff of
the work of Drelincourt on Death.
In most instances, ghost-stories have their origin in some incident which
no one has been at the pains to investigate. In 1746, the public Theatre
of Anatomy, in Paris, was disturbed by the sudden frenzy of the porter in
care of the dissecting-room; who protested that the spirit of a young man,
whose body had been deposited there the preceding day, after having
committed suicide by throwing himself into the Seine, had appeared to him
in the course of the night, bewailing and lamenting the dreadful
consequences of his crime.
Bruhier, the learned Professor of Anatomy, aware of the injurious
consequences likely to arise from a report that the theatre was haunted,
examined carefully into the details of the case; when it appeared that
this unfortunate young man, having recovered in the course of the night
from the state of insensibility in which he was deposited in the
dissecting-room, and terrified by the horrible aspect of the spot in which
he found himself, among dead bodies, skeletons and anatomical preparations
faintly illuminated by the light of a lamp, had dragged himself to the
door of the small adjoining room inhabited by the porter, and in faint
accents implored his assistance, and described the agonies of his
The porter, roused from his sleep by the appeal of a dead man wrapped in
his winding-sheet, instantly lost his senses; and the doors being locked
upon them, the exhausted young man, whom Providence had thus fruitlessly
restored, sank a victim to cold and exhaustion. His body was discovered
stretched on the floor of the dissecting-room near the porter’s door. But
for the judicious investigations of Monsieur Bruhier, this would have been
established as an authentic instance of spectral visitation!
A similar circumstance occurred in Lancashire some years ago.
A lady, the wife of a wealthy squire, died after a protracted illness; and
on the evening of her decease, her husband, desirous to pass a solitary
hour by the body, sent the nurse who was watching beside it, out of the
room. Before the expiration of an hour, the bell by which the deceased had
been in the habit of summoning the nurse, rang violently; and the woman,
fancying the unfortunate widower was taken suddenly ill, hurried into the
room. He dismissed her angrily, however, protesting that he had not rung.
Shortly afterwards, the bell was rung a second time; when the woman
observed to one of the servants that she should not attend to the summons,
as the gentleman might again repent having summoned her, and dismiss her
“It cannot be my master who is ringing now,” replied the footman, “for I
have this moment left him in the drawing-room.”
And while he was still speaking, the bell of the chamber of death rang a
third time—and still more violently than before.
The nurse was now literally afraid to obey the summons: nor was it till
several of the servants agreed to accompany her, that she could command
sufficient courage. At length, they ventured to open the door, expecting
to discover, within, some terrible spectacle.
All, however, was perfectly tranquil; the corpse extended upon the bed
under a holland sheet, which was evidently undisturbed. Such, however, was
the agitation of the poor nurse, that nothing would induce her to remain
alone with the body; and one of the housemaids accordingly agreed to
become her companion in the adjoining dressing-room.
They had not been there many minutes, when the bell again sounded; nor
could there be any mistake on the subject, for the bell-wire passing round
the dressing-room was in motion, and the servants in the offices could
attest the vibration of the bell. The family butler accordingly determined
to support the courage of the terrified women by accompanying them back to
the dressing-room, in which they were to sit with the door open, so as to
command a view of the bed.
These precautions effectually unravelled the mystery! A string had been
attached to the bell-pull to enable the sick lady to summon her attendants
without changing her position, which, still unremoved, hung down upon the
floor; and a favourite kitten, often admitted into the room to amuse the
invalid, having entered the chamber unobserved, was playing with the
string, which, being entangled in her feet, had produced this general
But for the opportune explanation of this trivial incident, the family
mansion would have obtained the notoriety of a haunted house, and probably
Such was the case with the Crown Inn at Antwerp, where some years ago, a
white spectre, bearing a lamp in one hand and a bunch of keys in the
other, was seen by a variety of travellers passing along a corridor till
it disappeared in a particular chamber.
Nothing would satisfy the neighbours that an unfortunate traveller had not
been, at some period or other, despatched in that fatal room by one of the
previous landlords of the house; and the Crown gradually obtained the name
of the Haunted Inn, and ceased to be frequented by its old patrons.
The landlord, finding himself on the brink of ruin, determined to sleep in
the haunted-room with a view of proving the groundlessness of the story;
and caused his ostler to bear him company, on pretence of requiring a
witness to the absurdity of the report; but in reality, from cowardice. At
dead of night, however, just as the two men were composing themselves to
sleep in one bed, leaving another which was in the room untenanted, the
door flew open, and in glided the white spectre!
Without pausing to ascertain what it might attempt on approaching the
other bed, towards which it directed its course, the two men rushed naked
out of the room; and by the alarm they created, confirmed, more fully than
ever, the evil repute of the house.
Unable longer to sustain the cost of so unproductive an establishment,
the poor landlord advertised for sale the house in which he and his father
before him were born and bred. But bidders were as scarce as customers;
the inn remaining on sale for nearly a year, during which, from time to
time, the spectre reappeared.
At length, an officer of the garrison, who had formerly frequented the
house, and recollected the excellent quality of its wine, moved to
compassion in favour of the poor host, undertook to clear up the mystery
by sleeping in the haunted chamber; nothing doubting that the whole was a
trick of some envious neighbour, desirous of deteriorating the value of
the freehold in order to become a purchaser.
His offer having been gratefully accepted, the Captain took up his
quarters in the fatal room, with a bottle of wine, and a brace of loaded
pistols on the table before him; determined to shoot at whatever object
might enter the doors.
At the usual hour of midnight, accordingly, when the door flew open and
the white spectre bearing a lamp and a bunch of keys made its appearance,
he seized his weapons of destruction; when, lo! as his finger was on the
point of touching the trigger, what was his panic on perceiving that the
apparition was no other than the daughter of his host, a young and pretty
girl, evidently walking in her sleep! Preserving the strictest silence, he
watched her set down the lamp, place her keys carefully on the
chimney-piece, and retire to the opposite bed, which, as it afterwards
proved, she had often occupied during the life-time of her late mother who
slept in the room.
No sooner had she thoroughly composed herself, than the officer, after
locking the door of the room, went in search of her father and several
competent witnesses; including the water-bailiff of the district, who had
been one of the loudest in circulating rumours concerning the Haunted Inn.
The poor girl was found quietly asleep in bed; and her terror on waking in
the dreaded chamber, afforded sufficient evidence to all present of the
state of somnambulism in which she had been entranced.
From that period, the spectre was seen no more; probably because the
landlord’s daughter removed shortly afterwards to a home of her own.
It has frequently occurred, for ill-disposed persons to profit by the
ill-name of a haunted house, as in the case of gangs of coiners and
thieves, who raise such reports in order to secure impunity in their
haunts. The Palace of the Tuileries is said to be haunted by a Red Man,
who regularly appears on the eve of any popular tumult, betiding evil to
the Royal Family of France. And appear he will, to the end of time; for
those who wish to create a political panic, take care that the apparition
shall be periodically renewed. The Palace at Berlin was at one time in
danger of having a Weisse Frau, or White Lady, to match with the Red Man.
During the reign of Frederick I., one of the Princesses, his daughters,
being dangerously ill, a white spectre was seen to traverse the royal
corridor leading to her apartments; and from that moment, the royal family
gave up all hope of her recovery. The following night, the Princess
expired; and not a soul about the Court doubted that the fatal event had
been announced by the appearance of the White Lady, who, on being
challenged by the guard at the head of the staircase had flitted past like
a shadow. Great difficulty was found in procuring proper attendants to
watch beside the body of her royal highness; when one of the royal
Chaplains requested a sight of the depositions of the soldiers by whom the
spectre had been accosted.
The mystery was instantly explained. A favourite attendant of the late
Princess, who, from the moment of her death had been confined to her bed
by severe affliction, happened to have mentioned to the Chaplain that, on
quitting her royal highness’s room in search of him, about midnight, the
night preceding her mistress’s demise, having a white veil thrown over her
head to keep her from the night air, she had been challenged by the
sentinel on guard; which being contrary to etiquette in a spot where her
person was well known, she had not thought proper to reply. On further
investigation, the evidence of the young lady herself was obtained; when
it appeared that the period of her passage in a white night-dress, to and
from the Princess’s apartments, corresponded exactly with the apparitions
of the White Lady described by the soldiers a happy relief for those who
were compelled to inhabit that wing of the palace.
A curious discovery occurred some years ago, at the head-quarters of the
French army on the banks of the Rhine. It appears that rumours became
suddenly prevalent of the repeated appearance of the spectre of the famous
General Marceau, who, was killed at Altenkirchen near Coblentz, in 1796,
and buried in the glacis of that city. He was, nevertheless, seen in his
uniform as a General of Chasseurs, with a drawn sword in his hand, by
several sentries and patroles; and nothing was discussed in Paris but the
nature of the omens to be inferred from this apparition of one of the
bravest officers of the Republic.
It happened that the French Commandant of the city of Coblentz was a
school-fellow and intimate friend of General Marceau; and either in hopes
of once more beholding one so much beloved, or with a view of detecting
the impostor who had presumed to trifle with his memory, he marched to the
spot pointed out as the usual haunt of the spectre, escorted by a company
Shortly after his arrival, the ghost made its customary appearance, and by
way of military salute, the Commandant ordered his men to “make ready” and
“present!” But ere he could add the fatal word “fire,” the ghost was upon
its knees, whining piteously; realizing the officer’s shrewd suspicions
that it would prove to be one of the boatmen of the Rhine, who had assumed
this appalling costume in order to pursue his calling unmolested, of
conveying by night to the fortress of Ehrenbreitstein, opposite Coblentz,
(at that moment besieged by the French) the provisions and succours so
vital to the garrison. In the character of Marceau’s ghost, accordingly,
he had nightly paraded the glacis; keeping the coast clear from intrusion,
while his boats traversed the river towards the fortress.
Every one who has travelled in Hungary is familiar with the superstitions
of the Willis, or dancing-brides, and the Vampires, or bodies that
preserve a posthumous life by the suction of blood from human veins. But
the latter superstition has found its way to other countries. A grave
having been accidentally opened in a church-yard in Lorraine, about the
year 1726, the body of a schoolmaster who, in his lifetime, had been
strongly suspected of proficiency in the occult sciences, but who had been
dead nearly half a century, was discovered in his coffin, as plump and
fresh as though still alive; his eyes bright—his air joyous.
The whole village having crowded to the spot to behold the miracle,
instantly recognised a Vampire in this healthful corpse. Thousands of
anecdotes were instantly cited of children lost in the neighbourhood; who,
though previously supposed to have fallen into the river, or been
destroyed by wolves, had evidently satisfied the dreadful appetites of the
dead schoolmaster! In order to keep him, for the future, quiet and
harmless in his grave, the villagers drove a stake through the body, after
having cut off his head and burnt it on the spot.
Had they persevered in their search, they would doubtless have found
reason to fear, from the evidence of the adjoining graves, that their own
fathers and mothers were also Vampires. Many soils, particularly those
impregnated with nitre, have the property of preserving bodies by
converting them to a substance resembling spermaceti. Similar discoveries
have been made in several church-yards in England; but luckily without
provoking suspicions so preposterous.
In the course of a few years, thanks to the progress of national
education, the best authenticated ghost-story going will scarcely find an
auditor. Half of the magic rites and mystic wonders of the olden time have
found able expositors in our own, in the retort and the crucible. We no
longer exorcise a ghost:—we decompose it,—like any other gas.
The orgies of intemperance used to be a fertile source of apparitions; as
in the case of the female spectre which rebuked the infidelity of Lord
Lyttleton—and the appearance of Lord Lyttleton himself to his friend
Miles Peter Andrews; two bon vivants, who were most likely indebted for
their nocturnal visions to an extra bottle of claret, and a broiled bone.
A clergyman, who had been struggling hard and sacrificing his nights’ rest
for a series of months to a new translation of the Prophecies, took it
into his head one night, that three children had entered his room and were
seated at his writing table. As there was nothing alarming in such a
visitation, he continued to write on; and on retiring to bed, at daybreak,
left his young visitors apparently occupying their place. When he woke in
the morning, they had of course disappeared.
The illusion was, however, so strong, and recurred so often, that his
studies were seriously interrupted; till at last he took the only wise
step ever taken by an inveterate ghost-seer:—he consulted an eminent
“You have been overworking yourself,” was the judicious reply, “and unless
you have recourse to air and exercise, your nervous system will become
seriously impaired. Such cases are by no means rare among men of studious
habits. In some instances, the spectrum is created by a disorder of the
optic nerve. In yours, I am pretty nearly sure that it arises from
derangement of the stomach. A good dose of calomel, my dear Sir, will lay
all your ghosts in the Red Sea!”
An ignominious conclusion of a romance, which in some respects resembles
the story of the Lutheran clergyman related in Wraxall’s Memoirs! who, on
taking possession of his cure, was awoke early next morning by the spectre
of a pastor in his gown and band, praying beside the desk at the foot of
his bed, and holding a ghastly child by either hand, whom he
recognised—by a likeness suspended in the parish church—as his
predecessor in the living. This occurred in summer time; but at the
beginning of winter, when the stove in his chamber came to be lighted, as
it never used to be in the time of the former pastor, an unpleasant smell
issuing from the chimney caused a search to be instituted; when lo! the
bones of two young children were found among the ashes in the stove. The
incumbent, who had already circulated the report of his ghost story, had
of course the comfort of finding child-murder attributed to his
The instance of Eugene Aram and ‘Dan Clarke’s bones’ affords strong proof
that those who hide can find; and in the ease in question, there appears
some doubt whether the spectre were the delinquent.
The subject of ghosts, however, must not be treated with less reverence
than its due. Samuel and the Witch of Endor, and the declaration of the
Evangelist that, during the Passion of our Saviour “the dead were raised
up, and seen by many in the City of Jerusalem,” remind us that spectral
visitations are consistent with the records of Holy Writ. But in this
case, as in that of demoniacal possession, the Christian era has produced
a revolution in the pschycological phenomena of nature; the power of the
evil one over the human race being modified so that the dead are no longer
raised up; while the angels of the Lord no longer manifest themselves to
the eyes of mankind, nor do His fallen angels take possession of the
A remarkable story connected with the belief in spectral visitations, is
that of the celebrated Bernhardi of Vienna; who after spending the evening
in a gay carouse with a party of young men of infidel principles, where he
boldly avowed his disbelief in the existence of ghosts, undertook to
proceed, as the bell tolled midnight, to an adjoining church-yard, and
stick into a grave pointed out to him, a fork which was taken from the
supper-table and presented to him for the purpose.
A considerable wager was to depend upon his execution of the feat; and at
the appointed hour, with a daring deportment Bernhardi quitted the
company, and repaired to the scene of action. It was agreed that he should
return to the supper-table, leaving the fork sticking in the grave so as
to be found on the morrow, in token of his accomplishment of the exploit.
Ten minutes would have sufficed for his visit to the church-yard. But at
the close of an hour he was still absent; when his companions became
convinced that he had turned coward and sneaked home to bed. They
instantly determined to convict his defection by following him to his
lodgings; but on their arrival, found, with no small consternation, that
he had not made his appearance.
One of them, more his friend than the rest, really alarmed for his safety,
proposed that they should visit the church-yard, and ascertain, at least,
whether he had accomplished the feat. When lo! extended on the grave lay
the lifeless body of the scoffer; who had burst a blood-vessel and died of
Having accidentally pinned down his cloak to the earth in sticking the
fork into the ground, where it still remained, he probably fancied himself
transfixed by the hands of the grisly tenant of the grave he was thus
unpardonably violating, for the sport of a drunken frolic; and thus became
the victim of his unwarrantable sacrilege. Let those who jest upon such
fearful matters, take warning by Bernhardi!
Another superstition connected with the disembodied spirit, is the belief
that spectres are to be found in the neighbourhood of hidden treasures.
In barbarous countries, it was the practice to kill a slave on a spot
where treasures were deposited, in order that his soul might watch over
the hoard, and terrify others from the spoil.
In Ireland, such murders would be gratuitous; for almost every spot
pointed out as having been a depository of treasures, in the olden time,
is said to be haunted by a banshee.
The same superstition appears to prevail in Germany and the Low Countries.
Some years ago, a most ridiculous incident, founded upon this prejudice,
came before the inquisition of the Saxon tribunals.
The Burgomaster of the village of Brummersdorf, being a man of dissolute
propensities, was in the habit of frequenting the public-house of the
place, in order to enjoy with loose companions the irregularities he dared
not attempt in his own house, in the fear of drawing upon himself the
reprehension of his superiors in office. A fellow of the name of
Osterwald, who acted as his clerk, was usually the companion of these
excesses; and many a good bottle of wine formed the cement of the
excellent understanding between them.
One summer night, as they were seated, according to custom, in the public
room of the inn, considerably the worse for a carouse prolonged after the
decent inhabitants of the village had retired to rest, a stranger entered
the inn demanding a night’s lodging; and having approached the table at
which the Burgomaster and his friend were drinking, continued to attract
their attention by uttering profound sighs.
Provoked by the interruption, the Burgomaster, whose name was Listenbach,
demanded the cause of his affliction; to which the fellow replied that it
was one with which he did not choose to trouble two gentlemen so
distinguished as those he saw before him.
Tickled by this flattery, Osterwald insisted on an explanation; and, at
length, after much show of caution and mystery, the stranger declared that
being a poor student of the University of Jena, he had been warned by a
dream to repair to the old Castle of Brummersdorf; where he would find a
fertile source of prosperity for his old age.
“I knew not,” said the stranger, “that there existed such a spot as
Brummersdorf on the face of the globe; but on consulting my books of
science, the following morning, I discovered, not only that it possessed
the ruins of an ancient castle, formerly one of the finest in Westphalia,
but that the constellations were favourable to the enterprize.”
“I recommend you then to set off at daybreak for the Castle,” said
Osterwald, “which is situated only a few hundred yards’ distance, on the
cliff overhanging the village.”
“Alas! I have just returned from thence!” replied the stranger. “I was
expressly enjoined in my dream to visit the spot at the full of the moon.”
“And what success have you met with, my good friend?” demanded Listenbach,
with increasing curiosity.
“I need not tell you gentlemen, since you appear to be inhabitants of the
place,” replied the stranger, “that the old Castle of Brummersdorf is the
depository of a prodigious treasure, the property of the extinct house of
“Indeed!” exclaimed his astonished auditors. “That accounts for the edict
issued by Government that the inhabitants should on no account be
permitted to disturb a stone of that ancient monument!”
“On arriving at the spot,” rejoined the stranger, “I made known in a loud
voice the spiritual authority by which my mission was appointed. When lo!
the spirit to whom is delegated the guardianship of the hidden treasure
replied that he was not permitted to divulge the spot where it was buried,
unless adjured by three persons at once; and unless the vault containing
it were opened by a magic key—to be formed of pure gold. But alas!
however tempting the prospect, gentlemen, how is a poor devil like myself
to procure the twenty-one ducats which the spirit asserts to be
indispensable for the casting of the key; or the attendance of two
enterprizing companions willing to share my exploit, and its noble
“Your two companions are before you,” exclaimed the boozy Burgomaster, “if
you will accept our company. Let me see what money I have in my purse!”
Even without paying the reckoning—including a fresh bottle of wine,
called for to drink to the success of their expedition—the purse of the
Burgomaster did not furnish half the necessary sum. Nothing was easier for
him, however, than to despatch his clerk to the strong box of his office;
which, as he was obliging enough to acquaint them, contained nearly a
couple of hundred ducats.
In as short a time as the condition of his intellects would allow,
Osterwald returned with the requisite sum; and the three companions, after
an inspiriting bumper, took their way towards the ruins of the old
Having arrived on a platform before the venerable gateway, distinctly
visible by the brilliant light of the moon, the stranger drew from his
pocket a short black stick, with which he traced upon the parched turf a
small circle, adorning it with several mystical devices and symbols.
“Within this magic circle,” said he, addressing his companions who were
overcome, partly by wine and partly by awe, “you must place yourselves, in
order to be secure from the molestation of the evil spirits besetting the
spot; while I proceed to fulfil the conditions of the guardian spirit of
the eastern tower.”
The two drunkards, not a little pleased to be thus secured from an
interview so tremendous, readily complied; and having furnished the
stranger with the purse, took up their position within the circle. For
some time, intense anxiety kept them silent. At length, they ventured to
communicate to each other their opinion, that the interview between the
strange student and the Spirit of the Castle was somewhat long; but being
fortified by their position within the magic circle, weary of standing,
and oppressed by drowsiness, they agreed to stretch their limbs on the
Next morning, the village of Brummersdorf was disturbed by the discovery
that in the course of the night the office of the Burgomaster had been
broken into, and its strong box pillaged, the iron safe being left empty
on the floor. A further search was immediately instituted; but no
Burgomaster was to be found; and his clerk being also absent, the
dissolute character of Listenbach and Osterwald caused them to fall under
suspicion of having embezzled and carried off the public funds.
The testimony of the village landlord, however, soon induced other
surmises; and the constables, by whom the robbery was discovered, having
proceeded at the head of a body of peasants to the ruins of the old
Castle, the hapless Burgomaster and his drunken clerk were discovered
stretched on the ground:—not, as was in the first instance apprehended,
bathed in their gore, but quietly sleeping off the fumes of their carouse!
The loss of his money was succeeded, of course, by the loss of the place
for which he had shown himself so incompetent. But in the course of the
summer, the cunning impostor was arrested; and it was the evidence of the
parties themselves on his trial which gave publicity to the story!
An amusing anecdote occurs in the Memoirs of the President de Thou; whose
son, also a lawyer of eminence, having been despatched by Government in
1596 to the town of Saumur, on a mission of consequence, was desired to
take up his quarters in the ancient Hôtel-de-Ville, the seat of
Having retired to bed with the uneasy feelings usually attendant on
sleeping in a strange place, particularly one of so gloomy and solitary an
aspect, the President was awoke about midnight by the weight of some heavy
burthen suddenly flung upon his chest; and entertained little doubt that
an attempt was about to be made upon his life. Being a man of strength and
courage, he seized the object in his arms, and flung it violently on the
floor; when, by the heavy moans that ensued, he perceived it to be a human
“Doubtless some thief,” was his next reflection, “who was searching under
my bolster during my slumbers for my watch and purse.”
While the President was preparing to jump out of bed, the figure, which
was attired in white, rose feebly from the floor, and by the dim light of
the moon, assumed a somewhat spectral appearance.
“Who are you?” cried the President, “answer this moment, or I will fell
you to the earth!”
“Who am I, ignoramus? Who should I be but the Queen of Heaven!” replied
a cracked female voice; while the servant of the President, who slept in
an adjoining room, being now disturbed, rushed in with lights; and with
the aid of the porter of the Hôtel-de-Ville discovered the intruder to be
a poor maniac, accustomed to wander about the streets of Saumur and find
shelter where she could.
Perceiving the doorway of the private apartments of the Hôtel-de-Ville to
be open, the poor woman had profited by so unusual a circumstance to
secure the best bed-room. On Monsieur de Thou’s return to Paris, the King,
who insisted on hearing from his own lips his ridiculous adventure,
complimented him on his presence of mind; admitting that, for his own
part, he stood more in fear of ghosts than of the shot of the enemy.
Had the servants of Monsieur de Thou encountered this midnight visitant
instead of their master, it is probable that the town of Saumur would have
enjoyed the reputation of having a haunted Hôtel-de-Ville as long as one
stone remained upon another.
The forest of Ratenau, in Westphalia, passed, during a whole year, for
being haunted by white spectres of the gnome or imp description; who
having accosted, not only the peasants of the neighbourhood, but some of
the servants of the Count returning after nightfall from the neighbouring
market, the road through the forest came to be deserted, and the greatest
consternation prevailed at the Schloss von Ratenau.
“On my arriving at the Castle from Berlin to spend the summer,” said the
Count, in relating the story, “I found the poor people firmly persuaded
that a supernatural race of beings had attained supreme power over a
portion of my estate; and it was vain to attempt to argue them into a more
rational frame of mind. Judge, however, of my surprise, when, on returning
through the forest, a few nights after my arrival, from the house of one
of my neighbours, the carriage stopped suddenly, the horses reared
violently; and the postillion, instead of attempting to keep his saddle,
began roaring aloud, ‘The Spirits—The Evil Spirits!’
“Another minute and the carriage was dashed from the road and overturned
in a ravine; nor was it without much difficulty that I extricated myself,
the postillion having already taken to his heels accompanied his fellow
servants. I confess to you, that, half stunned by the accident, I
experienced some uneasiness at the idea of finding myself alone, at
midnight, with the object which had produced this fearful consternation,
whether robber or impostor; nay, I will not swear that some of the
fantastic tales of Schiller and Goethe did not recur to my mind.
“Great, therefore, was my satisfaction on emerging from the broken
vehicle, and perceiving two white shapes bounding and gambolling at a
distance among the hoary trunks of the oak trees, to recognize two
handsome white grey-hounds, which I afterwards ascertained to have strayed
from the kennel of the Prince Henry of Prussia, and to have subsisted for
a year on their depredations in the forest of Ratenau!”
Another adventure occurred on the estate of a nobleman of the same family,
in the Duchy of Brunswick. An attempt was made to rob the village church;
the sacramental plate and poor-box being found one morning in the nave of
the church wrapped in a piece of old sacking, so as to give rise to an
opinion that the thieves must have been disturbed in their sacrilegious
enterprize. Some time afterwards, a gang of burglars having been arrested,
the judge of the neighbouring town charged them, after their conviction of
divers other robberies, with being accessory to the crime in question.
In a moment, these fellows, who had preserved the most hardened audacity,
fell on their knees, and freely confessed the attempt; adding, that they
had been prevented carrying off their booty by the sudden appearance of
the evil one emerging from the vestry; and as far as the uncertain light
of their dark lantern in that vast area enabled them to judge, in the form
of a horned monster.
A general laugh instantly arose in court; several of the inhabitants of
the village in question recognizing by this description, a tame stag, the
pet of a former incumbent of the living, which was allowed the run of the
presbytery orchard and church-yard; and which, having most opportunely
sought shelter in the porch on the night in question, had probably
followed the robbers into the church, which they entered by means of false
keys, leaving the doors open for their readier escape.
It is recorded in the Memoirs of one of the free-thinking circle which
surrounded Baron d’Holbach, in Paris, previous to the Revolution, that
having retired to bed one night after a gay supper, during which this
coterie of sceptics amused themselves with the most blasphemous
conversation, his gay companions, in order to try his courage, introduced
into his bed-room a goat, whose fleece had been steeped in spirits of
wine; which, when set on fire, gave to the unlucky animal an aspect truly
The goat almost equally terrified with its intended victim, instantly ran
to the bed and attempted to extinguish the flames by rubbing itself
against the bed-clothes, which it set on fire; and the young man, having
drunk freely at supper so as to be heavily asleep was with difficulty
extricated from the flames. The goat died of the consequences of this
cruel experiment; and the young man was subject for the remainder of his
life to epileptic fits.
Many instances are on record of an equally serious termination to these
foolish practical jokes. Witness the well-known story of the young lady,
who, after boasting of her intrepidity, had a skeleton from a neighbouring
surgery brought into her bed-room by her brothers and some young friends
staying in her father’s house. On retiring to rest, these cruel jesters
listened anxiously for the shrieks which they hoped would betray her
cowardice, and were greatly disappointed to find her as self-possessed as
she had announced; for instead of screaming, she went quietly to bed. But
alas! next morning, when the servant entered her room, she was found
playing with the skeleton, in a state of complete fatuity!—
In the southern provinces of France, there prevails a superstition,
derived probably from the lycanthropy of the ancients, that certain
persons assume at night the form of wolves, and roam the country for prey,
under the name of loup-garoux; a fable which gave rise to Perrault’s
charming fairy-tale of Little Red Riding Hood.
In a neighbourhood said to be frequented by one of these devastators, who
was of course no other than a man in wolf’s clothing, who, in this assumed
character pillaged the adjacent farms, a garde champêtre or country
constable, who had been several times attacked by the supposed monster,
contrived to lop off his paw with a hatchet; and, on the escape of the
loup-garou, found, as he expected, that the furry paw contained a human
hand! All the labourers of the neighbourhood were accordingly visited by
the gendarmes to ascertain, by his mutilation, the identity of the
sheep-stealer. But the delinquent had already fled the country; and the
imputed cause of his flight was confirmed a few years afterwards, by his
re-appearance in another department of France, maimed of his left hand!
Sometimes, these loup-garoux are madmen, whose insanity has taken this
monomaniacal form; as in the instance of the vintager near Padua, in the
sixteenth century, who was apprehended on a charge of furiously biting his
neighbours on pretence of his lycanthropic propensities. When reminded
that his face was unchanged, while the real loup-garoux have always a
wolfish physiognony, he asserted that he was permitted to wear his
wolf-skin inwards; whereupon the barbarous village tribunal by which he
was tried, ordered his hands to be amputated and skinned, to ascertain the
truth of the assertion!
Inflammation ensued, and the wretched lunatic died of his wounds!—