Regency Apparition

During the Regency era, you were bad ton if you saw a ghost. You were queer in the attic if you admitted you had.

For example, Monk Lewis’ wildly popular play, The Castle Spectre, was still being criticized after years of successful productions for the “nonsense and absurdity” of its supernatural theme. The play’s “special effects” were deplored–the “spectre” condemned as a public nuisance for attracting large crowds of boisterous, lower class patrons clamoring to see it.

Can never get enough of old Crichton Castle

    Crichton is as spectral a castle as you’ll ever find

Works of fiction aside, efforts to prove the existence of ghosts met with even stronger disapprobation. However well-intentioned, Reverend C.C. Colton’s publicised investigation into the Sampford ghost was considered no more than an exercise in chicanery.  To dignify such paranormal experiences only encouraged more of the sightings, which were:

“..the growth of a species of superstition at once so disgraceful to the character of the age in which we live, so injurious to society in its probable effects on the minds of ignorant persons and young persons..”

— “A Full Account of the Conspiracy at Sampford Peverell, near Tiverton, containing the Particulars of the pretended Visitation of the Monster, etc.” Taunton Courier, 1810

Sampford Peverell looks fairly peaceful now

     Sampford Peverell–at peace

When an account entitled “Starcross Apparition” appeared in the New Monthly Magazine, it was not surprising that the witness to it would not risk revealing his full identity. Instead, “H” risked a (tedious) exposition on the frailty of human senses–a plea for the Reader’s sympathy:

“Imposter and visionary, knave and fool, these are the alternate horns of the dilemma on which I shall be tossed with sneers of contempt or smiles of derision.”

— Account of an Apparition, New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal, Vol. VIII, 1823

H’s account takes place in the Devonshire village of Starcross, beside the Exe estuary. Starcross is just south of Powderham Caste, seat of the Courtenay family, Dukes of Devon since the 14th century.

That summer had been especially stormy, beating into a swamp the leaves and flowers not yet ready to be cast aside for winter. He denied he was blue-devilled by the weather, that summer evening, but he did feel sufficient melancholy to send a written invitation to a friend for dinner, on account of Mr. Staples’ “contagion of laughter.”

retro owl--we had one of these growing up

retro owl–we had one of these hanging on the front door

The next day, sitting in an outdoor alcove to await Staples’ arrival, H perceived the sound of a death-watch, “that little insect of inauspicious augery.” He thought nothing of it, dismissing it just as he had the sudden shriek of a screech-owl. On his return to the house, however, he had reason to recollect these portents, for his servant handed him a black-sealed letter.

Mr. Staples was dead.

Sadly, H made his way to his library, accompanied by a faithful spaniel. Once in the chamber, however, the dog let out a horrified wail, peering with fright toward the back of the room. There was Staples, sitting motionless, upright, in a chair.

H beat a hasty retreat from the library:

“..astonishment and terror so far mastered all my faculties, that, without daring to cast a second glance toward the vision, I walked rapidly back into the garden, followed by the dog, who still testified the same agitation and alarm.”

It was the spaniel’s fault, H reasoned, for causing his master to quit the chamber in unseemly haste. Why else would the spaniel be in terror unless it was due to the supernatural, the beast having no such knowledge of ghosts and such? Nevertheless, H’s good sense finally prevailed and he returned to his library, only to find the image of Staples was still there, seated with his eyes closed.

H tried to dignify the situation by screwing himself up to speak with the ghost. (See the method for addressing specters as related in an earlier post here). Demanding the reason for its presence, H was rewarded by the following response:

The figure, slowly rising up, opening its eyes and stretching out its arms, replied, ‘A leg of mutton and caper-sauce, with a bottle of old prime port, such as you promised me.’

The devil! (Actually, H swore that other innocuous Regency oath, ‘Good God!’)

One can only imagine H’s chagrin when Staples, in high good humor, assured his friend he was not a ghost. Indeed, it was a namesake of his, living in Castle-street, who had died. Unfortunately, some “loud-mouthed fool” had spread the false news to Staples’ clerk, who then conveyed the misinformation to H.

Imagining his friend’s turmoil upon receiving such a bag of moonshine, Staples made haste to Starcross to rectify the error. He let himself in the side door of the house and sat down in the library to await his host with the good news he was very much alive. His motionless appearance was explained by reason he’d fallen asleep.

The dog’s reaction was simply a case of dislike for Staples, who had strongly chastised him on an earlier visit for killing a chicken.

The Author wisely refrains from commenting further on his own reaction, and leaves it to us to contemplate ours.

“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real, too. They live inside us, and sometimes they win.” — Stephen King

Viscount Combermere is thought to be sitting in his favorite chair in this photograph taken by his sister, during his funeral, while the house was empty

Viscount Combermere, investigator of the famous moving coffins in Barbados, was struck and killed by a carriage. During his funeral, this photograph was taken of his favorite chair, while the house was empty.


Great Regency Fortunes

Lansdowne, Holland, Devonshire and the others–great London residences that were also Whig powerhouses of Regency London. We leave them now, along with their satellites Kenwood and No. 10 St. James. Time to visit the London palaces built with Tory fortunes.

Richard Rush, by Thomas Sully
Yes, but can the American tie his neckcloth properly?

In 1817, the United States sent a most unlikely ambassador to Regency Britain. Richard Rush was the son of Benjamin Rush, prominent physician and signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Upon entering service with the federal government, Rush became one of President Madison’s closest advisors. He was a strong advocate for waging the War of 1812 with Britain. When John Quincy Adams returned from Europe, Rush was no doubt was surprised as everyone else when he was appointed to take Adams’ place as the new Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Great Britain.

He remained in England for eight years and became very popular there, successfully negotiating a number of important treaties with Britain and laying down the foundation of a “special” relationship between the U.S. and the “mother ship” — the foundation of the world’s most strategic alliance.

His “Residence at the Court of London,” a journal of the time he spent as ambassador shows remarkable insight into the latter years of Regency England.

He made the following observation:

At dinner, I sat between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Lord Lynedoch. Speak-
ing of the property-tax, the former mentioned that the four largest incomes in the kingdom,
as returned under it while in operation, were those of the Duke of Northumberland, Earl
Grosvenor, the Marquis of Stafford, and the Earl of Bridgewater ; these, he said, were the
richest Peers in England, and there were no Commoners whose incomes were returned as

It was estimated each of these noblemen enjoyed an income of over 100,000 pounds sterling a year–an enormous sum at the time.

Their London homes were among the finest. Well-worth a visit.

Will you join me?