Reading Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book

I don’t remember quite how I tripped over this little collection of “true” ghost stories, but it turned out to be a fairly entertaining read. Charles Lindley Wood, the second Viscount Halifax (1839-1934), was president of the English Church Union, an Anglo-Catholic advocacy group, and also an enthusiastic collector of ghost stories. After he passed away, his son, the third Viscount Halifax (also named Charles Wood), published a selection of tales from his father’s “ghost book,” as Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book in 1936. The book proved to be so popular that Halifax put out a second selection, Further Stories from Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book, in 1937.

Charles Lindley Wood, 2nd Viscount Halifax
Charles Lindley Wood, 2nd Viscount Halifax (1885-1934).
Source: Wikimedia

Lord Halifax was particularly interested in “true” or “authenticated” ghost stories, and a large number of the stories in The Ghost Book come from letters written to Halifax by his friends, often with additional attestations from the people involved (not included in the collection). Halifax fils tries to annotate each story with their sources, and a number of interesting names come up.

It’s also inevitable that the occasional urban legend, FOAF tale, or misremembered literary tale should pop up, and astute readers have found at least one. Here’s a few tales with additional, external, points of interest.

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Reading Apparitions

Tsundoku: Japanese, from tsun (to pile up) and doku (reading). The act of acquiring books faster than one reads them.

Apparitions: Ghosts of Old Edo, Miyuke Miyabe

I have a serious, and probably uncurable, case of tsundoku. The ever-growing “to-read” stack on my bedside table is continually on the verge of falling over and injuring me. Periodically, for my own survival, I demote part of of the stack to some nearby bookshelf, where the books can languish for years, waiting for me to rediscover them. Finally, in a moment of boredom with whatever I’m reading at the moment, I’ll pick up one of these poor waifs instead. And sometimes, I kick myself for having waited so long. This is one of those times.

Apparitions: Ghosts of Old Edo (2013) is a wonderful collection of short supernatural tales, based on the folklore and ghost story traditions of Japan. They are set in Old Edo (Tokyo), during what’s known as the Edo Period (1603 to 1868). Each story is a fascinating look at the lives of ordinary people in urban old Edo: shopkeepers and their families, servants, workers, apprentices, landlords and employment agents.

Ghost stories set in this era tend to revolve around the lives of the upper class: the nobility and their retainers; samurai or scholars. So it’s refreshing to get a view of Japanese lives from another milieu. These people aren’t always in control of the ship of their lives; often, they must deal with whatever the winds and tides of fate sail them into. At times, the supernatural serves as a metaphor for the “mundane” issues that the characters struggle with; in other stories, it’s the instrument of karma, or of hope for the future.

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The Ghost and Josephine Leslie

Because I always appreciate a good bit of literary sleuthing.

I’m not sure what got me thinking about The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. I haven’t seen it in years, but it’s a movie I remember enjoying, one that’s right up my alley. Wikipedia tells me that it’s based on a short novel by R. A. Dick, the pseudonym of an Irish writer named Josephine Leslie (1898-1979).

The Ghost and Mrs Muir Posters

On an impulse, I bought the novel; and while I was at it, I did a little digging for other work by Ms. Leslie. I got intrigued by the title of a play she wrote, Witch Errant; the only plot information I could find is from an old playbill. I can’t find a copy of the play to read.

But while I was searching, I came across something fun.

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Dark Tales Sleuth Wrapped Up; The Contentious Life of Rosina Bulwer Lytton

I’ve wrapped up my current Dark Tales Sleuth case by posting the Table of Contents and Attributions for Volume Three of Evening Tales for the Winter. For this last volume, I mostly relied on the attribution information from ISFDB, and limited my research to tracking down original publication information, and more readable versions of the stories. However, one story earned a little more attention: “Nina Dalgarooki.”

Rosina Anne Doyle Bulwer Lytton née Wheeler Lady Lytton cropped
Rosina Bulwer Lytton (1802-1882).
Source: Wikimedia.

Unlike the other stories in this volume, “Nina Dalgarooki” is in fact supernatural; it’s a sort of satirical adult fairy tale about a beautiful Russian countess who wants to turn her beauty on and off: to “ration” it, for when good looks are truly needed. She finds a wizard to help her accomplish exactly that, and takes this power to Siberia, Paris, and London, with amusing results. It’s rather a fun piece!

ISFDB did not credit the story, but I found a snippet from The London Morning Post that attributed the tale to “Mrs. Lytton Bulwer,” the wife of the novelist known at the time as Edward Lytton Bulwer, and now known to us as Edward Bulwer-Lytton. You know: “It was a dark and stormy night” Bulwer-Lytton. The Post snippet said favorable things about “Nina Dalgarooki,” which is significant, in light of what happened afterwards… .

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Dark Tales Sleuth: Two-Thirds Done!

Somewhat over a year ago, I started the Dark Tales Sleuth blog to record my progress tracking down the sources of unattributed stories in the 1856 three volume anthology, Evening Tales for the Winter. I’ve been working on the project on and off since then, and yesterday I wrapped up what I could discover about Volume Two!

MadelynMack books
Image from Miss Madelyn Mack, Detective, by Hugh C. Weir (1914). Source: Internet Archive.

Of the last four stories in Volume Two, two were non-supernatural crime or adventure tales, one was arguably a ghost story, and the last a gothic demon tale. I’ve already featured Charles Macfarlane’s “Hungarian Robbers” in my Classic Crime series, so no more needs to be said about that.

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More Ghost Stories from the Classics

I’ve posted two more ghost stories from classical literature on Ephemera: a short one, and a longer piece.

Murder in Chaeronea

The first piece is a short excerpt from the beginning of the biography of Cimon, an Athenian general and statesman, in Plutarch’s Parallel Lives (circa 75 ACE). It’s got nothing to do with Cimon, but rather relates the legend behind a haunted and abandoned bath house in the city of Chaeronea. Vengeful murder, punishment and more murder permeate this bloody little tale.

Thrasyllus and Charite

Charite kisses
Charite embraces Tleoplemus. Illustration by Jean de Bosschère
Source: Wikimedia

The second piece is a much longer account, taken from Book VIII of The Golden Ass, by Lucius Apuleius. The Golden Ass, an early precursor to the picaresque novel, tells of the narrator’s misadventures after he is accidentally transformed into an ass. The novel is full of digressions and side tales, which other characters tell in the narrator’s hearing.

“Thrasyllus and Charite” relates the fate of a rich young woman, Charite, who had been held captive by robbers, along with the narrator. She (and the narrator) are eventually rescued by her fiance, Tlepolemus. Alas for poor Charite and Tlepolemus, they don’t live happily ever after, as we learn in this tale of betrayal, ghostly visitations and brutal revenge.

Do enjoy!

The Inn at the Spessart

Wilhelm Hauff (1802-1827) was a German poet and writer of the Romantic school, best known today for his märchen, a word usually translated as “fairy tales” — generally implied to be for children. In Hauff’s case the description “folkloric tales” might be more appropriate, since some of his stories seem too dark for children’s literature. Perhaps that’s why his name and works are less well known to Anglophone readers today than, say, the work of the Brothers Grimm or Charles Perrault. This is a shame; the tales I’ve read are delightful, and like the work of Hans Christian Andersen, are as readable–or even more readable–for adults as for children.

Wilhelm Hauff (1802-1827)
Source: Wikimedia

Hauff published his Märchen over the period of 1825-1827 as three Märchen-Almanach (yearly keepsake volumes): Die Karawane (The Caravan) (1825), Der Scheik von Alessandria und seine Sklaven (The Sheik of Alexandria and his Slaves) (1826) and Das Wirtshaus im Spessart (The Inn in the Spessart) (1827). Each collection is in the form of a story-cycle, with a framing narrative whose characters tell the individual tales, either to pass the time or to relate a part of their personal history. As you might guess from the titles, the first two collections are Orientalist fantasies patterned after the Arabian Nights. That’s well and good, but I wasn’t really in the mood for it, so instead I read The Inn in the Spessart, a tale of intrigue, impersonation, and highway robbers set in the forest of the Spessart region of Bavaria and Hesse.

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Ghost Stories from the Classics

Work has been quite busy lately, and likely to stay that way. I haven’t had much chance to blog. So a quick note to introduce a little set of stories that I collected a few months back, to share with you, my readers: ghost stories from classical literature.

None of these supernatural tales are at all spooky to the modern reader. What’s fun about them is that you can see in these usually brief anecdotes the germination of some well-known folktales and urban legends. Often, these excerpts from early writers of the classical Greek or Roman eras are the earliest examples of well-known tales. I’ve posted some examples to Ephemera, and I’ll post a few more as time permits.

Athenodorus The Greek Stoic Philosopher Athenodorus Rents a Haunted House

Some Ghost Stories by Pliny The Younger

The first of Pliny’s tales is a well-known haunted house story, and probably the origin of that stereotype of spectres in chains. Come to think of it, this is probably the only ghost story I’ve read where the ghost was actually in chains. The story is also an early example of the Aarne-Thompson-Uther (ATU) folktale motif 326A (“Soul released from Torment”). One could argue that it’s an early example of the occult detective genre, as well, since Athenodorus rented the house in question specifically to investigate the rumors about the spectre.

The second anecdote could be considered a poltergeist tale, where again the poltergeist seemed to have a message to send.

Lucian’s “Sorcerer’s Apprentice”

This is probably the original Sorcerer’s Apprentice story (ATU 325), with all the tale’s recognizable elements (except Mickey Mouse).

Tales of Mysterious Dreams

The first dream story, from Cicero, is an example of the Grateful Dead motif. In a Grateful Dead tale, the protagonist buries the remains of dead person at the protagonist’s own expense. The grateful ghost of the dead person then does a favor for the protagonist in gratitude. Cicero’s tale is quite basic, but the Grateful Dead motif eventually evolved into something a bit more elaborate. You can read my retelling of a Slavic Grateful Dead variant here.

The next two tales, one from Cicero and one from Aelian, seem to be two variations of the same story, about a murdered man who appears in another’s dream to expose the murderer. As Cicero points out, this story was already well known when he wrote it down, so I think we can call this one an urban legend.

Hope you enjoy these little excursions into the classics. I have at least two more, that I will post as time permits.


Featured image: Illustration by George Scharf for A History of Greece, by Leonhard Schmitz (based on the work of Connop Thirlwall) (1863). Source: Picryl.

“Athenodorus confronts the Spectre”: illustration by Henry Justice Ford for The Strange Story Book by Leonora Blanche Land and Andrew Lang (1913). Source: Wikimedia.

The Saga of Peter Rugg

I’ve posted a note over on Dark Tales Sleuth about “Peter Rugg, the Missing Man” (1824), a landlocked New England version of the Flying Dutchman story.

PeterRugg1

This “cursed traveller” tale, about a man doomed to ride forever in search of his home in Boston, evidently caused quite an impression on readers. Like the Angels of Mons or the so-called Legend of the Three Crowns of East Anglia, Peter Rugg crossed over from fiction into the status of “authentic” regional legend.

“Peter Rugg” (and its author, William Austin) are said to have made an impression on a young Nathaniel Hawthorne, who shared Austin’s taste in New England supernatural tales. Hawthorne eventually included Peter Rugg as a character in his allegory “A Virtuoso’s Collection” (which is how I ended up reading and annotating the story not too long ago).

The Peter Rugg saga actually has two parts: “Peter Rugg, the Missing Man,” and “Further Account of Peter Rugg.” You can find a link to both stories together in the above post, as well as links to a few other interesting supernatural short stories by William Austin.

Check it out!


Illustrations from the John W. Luce & Co. edition of Peter Rugg The Missing Man (1910). This is a really pretty edition of the entire Peter Rugg saga as one volume, found at The Internet Archive.

Early Translation of The Necromancer on Ex-Classics

A few months back on my Dark Tales Sleuth site, I wrote about The Necromancer; or the Tale of the Black Forest, which was one of the seven “horrid novels” mentioned in Jane Austin’s Northanger Abbey. The Necromancer is a 1794 translation of the German gothic novel Der Geisterbanner (1792), by “Lorenz Flammenberg” (Karl Friedrich Kahlert).

In my Dark Tales Sleuth post I wrote about having traced down an even earlier (1793) translation of the first half of Der Geisterbanner, by “T. Dutton.” In the post, I pointed to a convenient (but later — 1825) place to read it.

Now The Ex-Classics Website has posted T. Dutton’s translation, taken from the original publication sources, along with the translator’s original footnotes! So you can read this version of The Necromancer (Part I) as it was originally published.

Check it out.


Illustration from The Ex-Classics Website; I believe it’s taken from The Astrologer of the Nineteenth Century (1825), where this story was republished.