Regency Essay on Ghosts

From a delightful Regency-era discussion in the Edinburgh Observer, or, Town and Country Magazine, Jan. 3, 1818:


In churchyards:

“(they) have no particular business, but seem to appear, pro bono publico, or to scare idle apprentices from playing pranks over their tombs.”

Their appearance:

“dragging chains is not the fashion of English ghosts; chains and black vestments being chiefly the accoutrements of foreign spectres, seen in arbitrary governments.”

The female:

“if a tree stood in her way, she will always go through it. This I do not doubt: because women will go through anything, even if it be fire and water, much less a sturdy oak, to compass their end.”

they call him "Skeletor" -- an unexplained figure captured by closed-circuit camera at Hampton Court Palace

they call him “Skeletor” — an unexplained figure captured by closed-circuit camera at Hampton Court Palace

The effect of Christmas Eve:

“It is an established law, however, that none can appear on Christmas Eve…(and) there being some persons, particularly those born on Christmas Eve, who cannot see spirits.”


“The most approved mode of addressing a ghost is by commanding it in the name of the three Persons of the Trinity to tell you who it is, and what is its business. This may be necessary to repeat three times; after which it will, in a low and hollow voice, declare its satisfaction at being spoken to, and desire the party addressing it not to be afraid, for it will do him no harm.”

Mode of redress:

“In cases of murder, a ghost, instead of going to the next justice of the peace, or to the nearest relation of the deceased, appears to some poor labourer who knows none of the parties, draws the curtains of some decrepid nurse or alms-woman, or hovers about the place where the body is deposited.. the ghost commonly appl(ies) to a third person, ignorant of the whole affair, and a stranger to all concerned.”

Method of approach:

“The coming of a spirit is announced some time before its appearance, by a variety of loud and dreadful noises; sometimes rattling in an old hall, like a coach-an-six, and rumbling up and down the stair-case like the trundling of bowls or cannon balls..when any eminent person is about to enter their regions they make a great noise, like a fire in the night-time.”

Getting rid of them:

“The process is to issue a summons to his worship, the parson of the parish , and another to the butler of the castle, who is required (by duces tecum) to bring him some of the best ale and provisions which he can find in his master’s larder. ..he is met and discomfited with ease by the parson in a Latin formulary:–a language that strikes the most audacious ghost with terror. What would be the effect of Greek, or wild Irish, or the American Choctaw, is not yet known.”

Place of banishment:

“..a but of beer, if an alderman–a pipe of Madeira, if a gentleman–he may be rolled up in parchment, if a lawyer, or confined to the garret, if an author.


an authoritative book on the matter for late twentieth century juveniles

another authoritative source on the subject aimed at an audience of late twentieth century juveniles





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