Monday, 23 May 2016

Original Source: ‘Spectre Stricken’ Muddies the Waters

Spectre Stricken is the rather outlandish nom-de-plume adopted by the author of Ghostly Visitors, A Series of Authentic Narratives, published in 1882.  There are a number of frustrating things concerning this book, asides from the puzzling identity of its author.  But we’d as well start with the form of the book.  Allegedly the narration of a series of spectral tales told in turn by a group of university students in England, its redundant style certainly brings to mind the top hats and bounteous facial hair of the dandified upper classes, but that’s not necessarily a good thing.  So overwrought is the prose that you inevitable suspect that a good percentage of the stories have been exaggerated if not invented outright.  To make matters worse, the settings and names of those involved in the supposedly true tales have also been tarred the pseudonymous brush, so that Glamis Castle becomes ‘Castle Caledonia’ and so on.  It could hardly have been the fear of legal consequences that made the author so coy as other writers were openly identifying Glamis at the time as the vortex of a supernatural maelstrom.

   What about Spectre himself?  The preface is initialled MA (Oxon), which has led some to speculate that this person was William Stainton Moses (1839-1892), a famous cleric and spiritualist who wrote a number of works on spiritualism and psychical experiences. He used the same abbreviation in a number of other books and this fact has been used to assume that not only did he write the preface of Ghostly Visitors, but in fact authored the entire work.  At this late date there is probably no way of ever finding out if this is true.

William Stainton Moses.

  The story about Glamis in the book is prefaced by a vignette in which several people in an art gallery discuss the portrait of ‘Lord Glen Albyn, son of Lord Caledonia’ (Lord Glamis, son of the Earl of Strathmore).  The story of a terrible family secret is alluded to, the fact that Glen Albyn learned the secret when he came of age (a secret known to only a few) and was sadly changed by the knowledge.  There is also a version of the story of the search for the Secret Room, where handkerchiefs are hung out of the windows.  But the search is curtailed by the unexpected return of Lord Caledonia.  An Old Gentleman in the gallery adds colour to the whisper of the ladies:

There’s something n doubt – evidently desirous to shut off the room from the rest of the house; space between door, supposed to lead to the secret  chamber and the opposite apartment made a receptacle for coals...spoke to Lord Caledonia about the mystery jokingly; coughed and made no reply.  Told by one of the family that a violent storm breaks over the Castle in the month of November; no other place in the neighbourhood similarly visited; has a ghost – Earl Beardie!  Frightful old woman seen in the avenue!
   Had the Old Gentleman been drinking, I wonder?

   The story proper begins with a bogus history of ‘Castle Caledonia’ and the spurious identification of Earl Beardie with a mythical Alexander, Earl of Caledonia, ‘who lived in the reign of James the Second’.  The story of Beardie’s card game and inviting his own damnation by summoning Satan is repeated, followed by the testimony of one Mrs Vernon who heard and saw the ghost during a night spent in the castle.  Worse still, Beardie loomed over their young son who cried out ‘Oh mama!  mama!  there’s a great, big man in my room!’  The spirit disappeared as Mrs Vernon entered.
   Next comes the relation of a Mrs Gordon who dreamed of a crumbling fireplace, from which appeared the bearded ghost who declared that it was a relief being out of the room where he had been confined for ‘so many hundred years’.   This is followed by the story of a local cleric who confronted a ghost with a request for funds.  What we have in the above is a repetition of the stories contained in Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book.  The fact that the latter was not actually published until the 1930s means that the stories contained in it must have been circulated orally in England around the year 1880.  The final story, also familiar from other sources, is of the doctor who had a precognitive dream about a lady guest being murdered by another, and it turns out to be the lady’s husband, whom the doctor is introduced to some time later in a different location.

   So Ghostly Visitors inhabits the half-light of 19th century Glamis sources, neither unique nor informative, but baffling, untrustworthy perhaps and containing a parcel of stolen whispers – but entertaining nevertheless.

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